The signs of the holidays are all around us: my teenagers have started listening to the local holiday music station, people are bundling up in anticipation of the snow that will soon be upon us, and the Wall Street Journal is reporting on the expected sales of TVs at WalMart this Black Friday.
Aside from the economy, I'm following holiday shopping results because of the humble little devices we call connected TVs. CES 2009 featured many a promise from major TV makers – they assured us that connected TVs were finally ready to rock. Based on that, we estimated that a million of these TVs would be in US homes by the end of the year. In fact, if all the promises were kept, these million would be an easy sell because they would have fancy widget experiences just like the iPhone. Plus, we were assured the technology would get better every day so that accessing Internet content on the TV would feel as natural as switching from Dancing with the Stars to House (an activity I encourage).
This is not the time to go into my disappointment at the failure of some of those TVs to even arrive, much less the less-than-iPhone-like widget experiences they have delivered so far. Instead, in the spirit of technology denial, I’d rather focus on the fact that even if these TVs could do everything we hoped, somebody still has to sell them at retail. No, I'm not concerned we won't hit the million mark. Instead, I'm concerned that we'll have a million or more out there, but that fewer than 40% of them will actually connect to the Internet.
So how to sell a connected TV in such a way that consumers want to connect them when they get home? Walk the aisles of any store hawking TVs and you’ll be hard pressed to find a connected TV. Even if you ask Victor at your local Walmart Impact store as I did, chances are good he won’t know if his showroom TVs connect and what they would do if they did connect. From Sony Style, to Best Buy, to Sears, finding one of these TVs is a challenge, much less getting a demo. I recently asked a Sony Style store employee what was meant by the ubiquitous Netflix and Slacker logos around the TVs and he proceeded to pull out a remote control and truly wow me with what his floor model TV could do. But had I not asked, I would never have seen this demo because the stylish store, the lovely displays, and the busy employee did not offer it to me.
I recently walked into a Best Buy and saw a promising sign: a little blue sticker that raised the Internet Connected flag. It was prominently attached to anything that could connect to the Internet – a TV, a TiVo, a multi-room audio player. Finally, someone was volunteering the fact that the TV I was looking at could offer me the latest and greatest features.
I haven’t seen this elsewhere yet, but I need to. The industry needs to find a way to let the world know that things connect. This is made harder by the fact that so many of these connectable devices are sold in different parts of the store so I can’t even be tempted to consider how the iPhone might configure my Netflix Watch Instantly queue or how the DLNA-compliant TV might pull photos straight off my Windows 7 PC, because none of those devices are located even remotely close to one another. So here’s my connected TV wish list for this holiday season, hoping for some connected TV love:
- More blue stickers. I want to see stickers boasting of connectivity on every piece of Internet-enabled hardware in the store. Let me know that this thing connects. You don’t need to provide a four-page description of what it does, just raise the issue and let my curiosity lead me to figure out the benefit.
- Show me the brands. To give credit where it’s due, Samsung has done a solid job of letting people know its Blu-ray players and connected TVs offer Netflix and Pandora right out of the box because it features the logos prominently on packaging and even on some devices. These reassuring content brands offer a promise that supersedes any widgets, network protocols, or technology acronyms I don’t want to bother with.
- More co-located devices. Go ahead, put a laptop next to that TV, even drag a digital camera over to show how photos can get to the TV screen. Make me aware that these things are supposed to work together now. You’re not just selling me a TV, after all, you’re selling me a connected experience that implicates many other devices and services I could buy. Who knows, you just might sell me even more stuff once I understand how it all fits together.
That's it, industry. Go ahead, make my holiday.