What future the television? With the next generation of Apple TV due for release, and Google soon to
follow, attention has (momentarily) shifted away from mobile and computing, and back to the domestic screen.
Manufacturers know many of us want to bag the latest TV as a living room centre-piece - all we're looking for is an excuse to upgrade (which is why we're pummelled by various offers in the lead up to the World Cup). Perhaps it's a statement of wealth, a great accompaniment to minimalist decor, or an actual social hub. After all, your mates will always want to see the game round yours if you have the biggest and best.
At the same time, an increasing number of us are going online to watch our favourite programs on demand. Apple TV has always tried to link up these separate viewing habits, and has so far failed. Why? Well not only do you need to rent or buy, it's yet another piece of hardware to sit on top of the DVD player. And the Sky+ Box. And the games console. And so on.
Various providers now give you access to iPlayer and 4OD from your TV, and with Sky+ (and other freeview boxes) able to record entire series of shows and pause live TV (in my the best innovation since we all changed to Colour), why should we want to rent or buy? After pioneering the concept all those years ago, Sky Box Office has still got the edge in this market.
We've reached a mind-bogglingly diverse range of options for watching television, and there's no doubt that removable media will also soon disappear for good (in a space-hungry world, everyone appreciates less clutter). With ever-more people signing up to phone + broadband + TV packages, rental and streaming are destined to win, but as part of an inclusive monthly fee. What interests me is if a single trendsetter will power ahead, or if we will face ongoing war between the media giants?
Whereas it took the iPod to make iTunes a success, in this case, it won't be the hardware but the quality of the service or software which decides the outcome. But you also require a brand strong and adaptable enough to carry it all off. Funnily enough, two of the major players are both 'brands of personality' - Murdoch as Wizard of Oz and Branson a Dorothy (with the looks of the cowardly lion).
This battle is much harder to win, as the necessity of cross-party agreements makes it much more difficult to create a unique proposition, or at least relay it to consumers. Sky's 'fairytale broadband' is a terribly confused campaign which may have done serious damage to the overarching brand. Tacky and cheap, it stands awkwardly next to sleek campaigns for Sky Sports and Sky+ 'Supertelly'. Having won the business back in May, I'm keen to see how DDB respond, with their first integrated campaign for Virgin Media.
Google has made a wise move by farming out its technology to the new range of Sony TVs, so may win the battle for 'a box to rule them all' without reliance on an actual box. But, as things stand, it seems the real money will find its way back to the pockets of the media magnates.
The implications for advertisers are also fascinating. Will we see web ads adapted for the TV screen, when viewing YouTube videos and similar, and traditional TV ads adapted for a web connection? Integration of social networks? Channel 4's 'seven days', despite teething problems, suggests some of the possibilities, as have occasions this year of tweeting along to major events.
Creative use of new technologies by marketers might be the very thing which stops people heading back to their mobiles and laptops. Lets cross our fingers for a renaissance in communal, interactive viewing.