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Google’s Eric Schmidt to Broadcasters: “Ignore The Internet At Your Peril”

by Adriana Lee | August 30, 2011August 30, 2011 8:15 pm PST

After seeing this one, all I can say is, “Good for you, Eric Schmidt.”

The Google chairman recently addressed UK broadcasters, urging them to embrace the future, i.e. streaming entertainment. At the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, he talked about how the nature of the television industry is changing, and told them they need to get on board or get left behind. Of course, his idea of doing this is to join forces with Google, but self interests aside — this is an extremely salient point.

“You ignore the Internet at your peril,” says Schmidt. “The Internet is fundamental to the future of television for one simple reason: because it’s what people want.”

I’m glad someone said it, in no uncertain terms. And it doesn’t just affect U.K. audiences. Here in the U.S., audiences are flocking to the on-demand availability of streaming television — and they’ll get it one way or another. When Fox decided to delay its Hulu programming by eight days, as a “Hail Mary” play to pump up their actual TV viewership, audiences responded — not by tuning in on their televisions more, but by downloading pirated copies of episodes.

Users are also responding to new-era discovery tools, which is one reason why Netflix (with its user review model) is flourishing, despite having older inventory than, say, Hulu — which is on the sale block and still trying to attract serious suitors. There’s also massive social potential and interest in user participation and engagement. Users already wax poetic on the webs, Twitter and Facebook about landmark television, and those channels could be broadened by internet-connected TV, Google+ and other products and platforms.

But there’s a hindrance to all of this, and it’s the TV industry itself. While it may have begun offering wares on different platforms, it often mires distributors with rights issues or hobbles features and schedules in favor of the traditional, stale TV distribution/advertising model. In the mean time, the public doesn’t get to enjoy all the robust choices our technology is fully capable of, partly because support for them is lacking.

Right now, there still seems to be a free-for-all, while companies try to figure out a model for software and/or hardware to enchant the masses. Some are succeeding to some degree (Netflix), while others are failing (Apple’s 99 cent TV rentals), amid tons of other solutions that at least partially deliver on the promise (Hulu/Hulu Plus, Roku, Boxee/Boxee Box, Apple TV, Google TV, SMP-100, WD TV, game consoles, etc). But none of them can seem to fully replace those trusty old cable TVs for the general population yet.

This prickly situation results in a shaky business model, one that results in limited development and refinements for an exceedingly important aspect of the TV-watching experience: UI. Content and user interface are the two crucial elements of success, and so far, no one has nailed both of them sufficiently. For example, this is the sole reason why my husband won’t cut the cord. He likes to veg out in front of the TV and channel surf. He can’t do that as easily on any current alternative solution.

But it’s only a matter of time until it happens. And when it does — well, Eric Schmidt’s words will probably thunder in the minds of any entertainment execs or broadcasters who haven’t jumped on board yet.

What hardware/software solution do you rely on most for your TV or movie viewing? Are you thrilled with it so far, or do you have any burning desires for content, UI or other changes?


Adriana Lee

Adriana is the resident writer-slash-culture vulture who has written about everything from smartphones, tablets, apps, accessories, and small biz...

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