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Streaming content, on demand access, and a cloud distribution model is where TV is heading in the near future. The signs are already here. Soon we will no longer be waiting for channels to play our favorite shows, but we will have instant on-demand access to every movie and show we desire. The model for this change is similar to current services like Netflix or Hulu and conglomerated service entertainment centers, like the Apple TV and the Google TV. However, the term “TV” is changing as well. It is no longer referring to a big box in our living room, or even an HDTV, but content delivered across multiple devices and networks.
Instant or On Demand Access
In the online and digital world of today, TV viewers are starting to want more content instantaneously. Even Cable companies such as Comcast are experimenting with on demand content. Comcast offers “Xfinity On Demand,” and has even started offering TV shows and movies for owners of mobile devices in order to compete with Netflix. Live content and newer movies or TV shows are still missing, however. Despite this setback, the idea of a TV guide is becoming obsolete. We can select the shows we want to watch directly through iTunes for instance. However, we can only record live content or TV shows via a DVR, though this will soon change as well. Scheduling may totally disappear because of this desire for everything to be instant and on demand.
According to a TechCrunch article on Cloud TV, “TV is moving to the cloud. It is inevitable, just as other kinds of media from books to music are increasingly delivered over the Internet.”
These other forms of media include digital music, for instance. Have you noticed how music CD sales have been going down at brick-and-mortar retail outlets? How everyone seems to be playing songs using devices like the iPod? The same thing can be said for e-books replacing paper books. Remember what happened to Barnes & Noble? Cable and satellite companies are worried this will happen to them as well. The Hollywood industry and companies like Sony are also worried that Blue-ray and physical media sales will decrease as a result of online distribution of content. Despite some roadblocks, content is heading to an online distribution model and the landscape for TV is changing.
“TV in the cloud isn’t just about shifting distribution,” says TechCrunch. “It is about making it easier to find and share new shows, and change the way we consume them.”
The idea of sharing should be common to anyone today into social media. If you like a YouTube video you spotted, for instance, you can share it with anyone online using Twitter or Facebook. Just tweet the link or add it to your profile’s updates. Can we see the same sort of interaction in the future with actual TV shows and movies that are sometimes over two-hours long? What will this sort of sharing and distribution do to advertising? These questions may worry Cable and Satellite TV companies, yet prove to be exciting propositions for other companies and TV watchers.
Conglomeration of media will define future TV content
Set-top boxes, like the Apple TV, are making this consumption instantaneous. We can start watching a show or movie from our large-screen HDTVs, and continue from our iPads as we commute to work. Conglomeration is also absorbing the form of various services competing for our attention. Many of these services — like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and iTunes — can be accessed from our TV sets using a connected set-top box (or other devices) like the Apple and Google TV hardware.
Conglomeration is not only occurring in the services we have at our disposal, but in entire mediums. We can access an entire mobile ecosystem from Google TV-compatible hardware. The reason for this is it comes with Android compatibility. Apple TV does not yet, but I would say a future version probably will (we are currently at version 2). Media ranging from apps to games, pictures, movies, TV shows, and music are all being accessed from single devices or pieces of hardware. TV sets are available with this sort of conglomeration built-in — even Google TV compatibility built into them.
TV in the Cloud vs. Web-Based TV
Cloud computing requires data centers to store information for users to access at any moment. It is based on content providers running huge data centers. These data centers are full of data that is streamed or accessible by users with an online connection. Although both Apple and Google TV offer support for other services, these may or may not be cloud based. Netflix is based on a cloud distribution model of streaming content, as reported by Venture Beat.
However, Apple’s iTunes service isn’t cloud based unless it is accessed from iCloud — Apple’s recently-released cloud service. What separates a pure cloud service from one that uses local streaming is whether data centers store the entire TV show or whether it is being streamed from an external hard drive on another computer or device.
Content Providers vs Network Providers
Maybe combating cable and satellite companies isn’t the answer, but rather they can be convinced that there is money to be made with on demand TV. According to a Wired feature on “Netflix and Google content delivery, the two companies are moving data center infrastructure in order to speed up network connectivity between content being shifted to end users. This in turn helps service providers, like Comcast, by saving them traffic or data transfer costs:
“They’re moving servers — usually free of charge — next to the service providers’ networking gear so that people trying to watch a popular YouTube video don’t have to send traffic across the network to servers back to the website’s data center. It can save companies like Google and Comcast lots of money, and it speeds things up for consumers.”
The article goes on to point out that there is strong collaboration and inter-connectivity between companies’ services due to the way the Internet has been evolving. We can only hope this will continue to allow more TV options from Internet-connected devices and by utilizing cloud networks. Netflix is a great step, as is iTunes, and YouTube. However, users want more premium and new content as well as Live content.
Content Delivery Systems
There is a trend now for companies to form their own content delivery networks to have direct access to consumers through networks of content.
According to Wired, “Google has been doing its own content delivery network for years. And earlier this week, Netflix announced that it has followed suit, setting up something it calls its Netflix Open Connect Content Delivery Network. According to Labovitz, about 70 percent of Netflix traffic is now flowing through servers it set up at ISPs. Back in January, all that traffic was going through Content Delivery Network companies such as Level 3, Akamai, and Limelight.”
The Netflix service network, Open Connect works with ISPs in that, “Netflix is enabling ISPs to get Netflix video data directly from Open Connect, a single-purpose content delivery network we’ve established. ISPs can choose to have Open Connect Appliances within their datacenters, or to peer with the Open Connect network at common Internet Exchanges. Netflix will provide either form of access at no cost to the ISP.”
This delivery model is the result of so much traffic flowing online now due to heavy downloading of media such as video. This is the reason why websites and companies are starting to strike deals directly with ISP companies and installing their own data centers next to ISP’s infrastructures. The ISPs then can work with Netflix or other companies to access the data.
Live TV content — which includes TV shows, musicals, sports and important events — is the next step in on demand TV that will be streamed through the cloud to end users. Most cloud companies have TV shows and movies available for streaming, but not live events. However, Apple TV does have limited live TV capabilities in the form of sporting events. Eventually, we should expect all TV content will be accessible through the cloud. You can just take a look at any modern TV set: it most likely already has some compatibility to streaming services based on cloud storage. In fact, many modern TV sets today are released under the category of “Smart TV.” These TV sets are connected online constantly and their feature list keeps expanding. Cloud is the actual progression of this technological expansion. The rumored Apple iTV will have smart TV features and it is expected that Apple will try to change the content distribution model for it as well. It may prove to be the next real stepping stone for on demand and cloud TV entering mainstream viewers’ homes.