Televised Apocalypse

Google is proving an old joke right, and in the right way.

The joke was that UNIX is the original computer virus, spreading like an epidemic to every conceivable computing platform.  Geeks used to laugh at this line … until Linux was first spotted running side-by-side on both a surplus x86 desktop and an IBM mainframe.  It then leapt onto cell phones, into routers, and I think there is a Linux application for my toaster.

It may in your next television.

Samsung — whose cell phone division likes Android in the same way sumo wrestlers like cheeseburgers — let slip that they are considering baking Android into televisions.  This is no meager moment because Samsung makes more idiot boxes than the public school system makes viewers.  In fact, Samsung make more boob tubes than any other enterprise, and is single handedly responsible for most of the traffic on Best Buy’s web site (Samsung offers 82 different sets at BestBuy.com, with Sony running a distant second with a trifling 27).

Threatening to put Android on Samsung TV’s is a significant market trend event and a significant marketing move.

With few details, we can only speculate on what an Android TV might be (but it won’t be Google TV).  Google and Samsung are wise enough to learn from other people’s mistakes, including Microsoft’s WebTV, Wink and Open TV, and thus avoid doing the same dumb things (like Google TV).  Each of those forgotten offerings was either a disaster or a mere calamity, depending on how many worthless shares of incentive stock you held.  Each product attempted to merge functions of interactive computing with the completely non-interactive purpose of television.  Each company discovered — in exquisitely painful ways — that people watch television to avoid interaction — interaction with computer, spouses, children or anything else annoying.  Thus interactive television was doomed from the conceptual start.

Which partially explains your set top box (STB in the industry lingo).  Have a look at that gizmo.  Internet ready.  USB ports on the back.  A keyboard we call a remote control.  CPUs with more horsepower than your cell phone, which is a multitasking general computer.  Your average STB has more computing power than my first four personal computers combined.  This is because the cable and satellite industry understood the power of digital media, and needed to put computers on your TVs in order to deliver goods above and beyond basic cable.

Which is why Samsung wants to put the computer in your TV.

A major shift is occurring in video entertainment media.  The old means of consumption are approaching an evolutionary epoch ahead of a rapid decline.  Once digitized, content becomes portable.  Your laptop can stream off of Hulu.com.  Netflix and Amazon can stream movies to your gizmo enabled monitors.  You can watch reruns on your iPhone, and no doubt some criminally insane zealot is developing a video watching app for a Microsoft cell phones (which shows even tiny markets attract developers).   We are steadily shifting from a nation of people who shared televised moments (who didn’t watch Johnny Carson and joke about it around the water cooler the next day) to a species that consumes content then Twitters about it to share asynchronously.

Which means broadcast television as we know it is doomed.

This is one reason Samsung is considering baking an embedded computer into your electronic baby-sitter.  Television is all about content, and content is now escaping the traditional distribution channels.  By the time a television program reaches you today the production company, television network and cable company have all eaten a piece of the profit.  Steve Jobs first figured out that digitized music needed a more direct path to consumers, and cut out the record store and wholesaler.  As musicians taught themselves digital production, they started to cut out the record companies.

Samsung will help make possible cutting out Comcast (hmmm, why did my Internet connection disappear when I typed that?)

Like many things visual, Netflix showed the way. Once broadband penetration was wide spread enough, Netflix stared streaming movies to your TV set via a proprietary box.  They could easily do the same with an Android app inside of a Samsung television.  So could Paramount pictures, who might want to cut Netflix out of the profit chain.  So could Demented Dave’s Demons, the local punk band who wants to distribute concert footage to people in Mongolia.  Samsung is accelerating a trend to flatten content distribution.  Any middle man will be on the losing end of the equation.

This includes Steve Jobs.

Shift happens, and the market for video content is shifting to a direct model.  Ignore the economic efficiencies of delivering a movie directly from a web site to a million televisions and eliminating DVD manufacturers, packaging companies and the postal service.  Do imagine the producers being able to cut the price of a movie rental in half and still double their profits.  Do imagine the long tail behind any episode of any television program being rentable from now until really jazzy trumpets start blaring overhead.  This trend is unmistakable and the largest maker of televisions in the inhabitable world and Canada knows it.

So does Google, who will be able to cross index your Internet searches, mobile locations, lunch break food preferences as well as your television viewing habits … and sell your detailed demographic profile to advertisers.


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