What’s The Next Big Thing In TV Technology?

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Last spring, I asked 100 TV executives to predict which new TV technology is most likely to succeed. The choices were high-definition TV, video-on-demand, interactive TV and the digital video recorder. By a 2-1 margin, the TV insiders picked the DVR.
The results were surprising. Despite the buzz for brand leader TiVo, DVR services are now in just 2 million homes. But the executives said the video recorder is a shoo-in to replace the VCR. (The complete survey results are online at: www.tvweek.com/technology/042804swann.html.)
But which new TV technology has found its way into more homes?
Here are the results.
Interactive TV
The two-way technology has been labeled the biggest flop since New Coke. But interactive TV is actually available in approximately 12 million homes, mostly satellite TV residences. DirecTV, for instance, permits you to access customized news and weather reports and request more information about advertisers with the click of a remote. Not excited? You’re not the only one.
However, interactive TV officials, who once seemed fixated on getting us to order pizzas, have experienced an epiphany. (That often happens when the entire world tells you that you’re a failure.) The industry has finally developed some compelling features, such as games, trivia and gambling. And with ITV enthusiast Rupert Murdoch ready to take over DirecTV, the industry could finally be on its way.
Want to get a cable executive excited? Just say the words “video-on-demand.” VOD, which enables you to watch new video releases and TV shows without waiting, is now in approximately 10 million cable homes, with millions more coming soon. And unlike interactive TV, the on-demand service is clicking with viewers. For example, Playboy TV President Jim English told me recently that some operators are considering making Playboy and its sister network, Spice, on-demand exclusives. Why? Well, English wouldn’t confirm it, but cable sources say that adult VOD buy rates are up to seven times better than pay-per-view.
Because satellite TV does not have the technical capacity to offer on-demand service, cable operators believe that VOD can attract new customers.
High-Definition TV
HDTV delivers a picture considered four times better than standard definition. However, the industry’s picture is not so clear. HDTV sets are now in fewer than 7 million homes. (And only 2 million homes have the digital tuners that are required to receive HDTV signals.)
However, sales are rising thanks to a recent price breakthrough. (You can now buy a hi-def set for less than $1,000.) And with more networks planning HDTV programming, the industry could have a big year in 2004.
Digital Video Recorders
TiVo has become part of the American lexicon, but not the American living room. The DVR service has fewer than 800,000 subscribers, and the DVR industry as a whole has just 2 million. However, the numbers should jump in the next year thanks to cable’s rollout of unbranded DVR services.
Phillip Swann is president and publisher of TVPredictions.com. He can be reached at Swann@TVPredictions.com.