We here at Flightpath usually get along pretty well. We’re all interested in digital media, technology and how the two continue to change and evolve. We go out to lunch, get drinks, and generally enjoy each other’s company (except for that one person here…). Occasionally, however, we disagree on things (Jets vs. Dolphins, Birch vs. Stumptown (both awesome local coffee houses), Brgr vs. New York Burger, etc.). You know how it is.

Today, we’re having a “Digital Debate,” where we’ll offer two opposing views on an issue in the digital world. You decide who – if anyone – is right. In this sparring match, it will be “Smokin’” Social Media Strategist John Whitcomb vs. “Dashing” Digital Marketing Associate Dan Brooks.

The topic: Will there be a one-screen future featuring the convergence of television and Internet interactivity?

John:

As I watched the Oscars and followed my Twitter stream, it got me thinking about how far technology has come. It was amazing that I could connect to other viewers from all over the globe just by searching for a certain topic or hashtag, such as #Oscars or #TheOscars.

My vision of the future, meaning three to five years from now, involves one of convergence. Instead of having to watch one screen and have another to connect to my friends’ opinions on Twitter with my laptop, I will be doing both at the same time on one screen, plus a whole lot more.

Let me indulge you for a minute and so that you can visualize exactly what I am talking about (and make it easier for you to agree with me). It is the year 2014 and you are just settling down for your interactive Oscar experience. You turn on the TV and tune it to your desired channel. Next you bring up your Twitter and Facebook streams and start following the conversations. Since you are a huge behind-the-scenes fan, you have also just downloaded to your TV the behind-the-scenes app, which lets you watch exclusive video that is not available to the general public.

You continue watching the show, participating in the live Facebook chats with the winners and voting in all of the audience participation questions. You change the camera view so you can get a glimpse of the audience, and by clicking on one of the audience members you are instantly greeted with their bio (in case you forgot who they were).

Some of this is already possible, and this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, “Connected Televisions” were one of the largest draws behind, of course, the Tablet craze. But I really do think that this isn’t that far off and we no longer will have to choose between devices, but will have all the options that we currently have on multiple devices on one screen. Oh yeah, and did I mention that this viewing of the Oscars takes place after you have eaten the dinner prepared by your robot butler?

Nice vision, right? Top that, Danny Boy!

Dan:

John is wrong. THE END.

Just kidding. John brings up a good point in that many forms of media have been mixing and converging over the years. Our cell phones are no longer really phones; they’re music players, texting machines and mini-computers. Laptops are recording studios, DVD and movie players, and stereos. But I’m hesitant to lump TVs into this category, especially when it comes to Internet/Twitter/interactive functionality. The reason? The technology to incorporate interactivity and/or the Internet into the television viewing experience has been around for years; it’s been tried, and it’s never worked.

The biggest hindrance to web surfing on television has always been that the web just doesn’t look that good on TV. It’s the same as retrofitting a web site onto on iPad – it doesn’t work. The resolution is terrible and no one likes zooming in and out. Also, with web content on television, it’s really just no fun reading from your couch, which is usually pretty far away from the screen. In addition, no one seems to want a keyboard lying on their coffee table. (And who wants to use a remote to type on the TV? As a gamer, I hate typing messages on the PlayStation Network with my controller, and rarely do I or any of my friends write anything to each other short of highly intellectual quips like, “You suck.”)

But aside from that, even when media companies have tried to introduce web interactivity to TV, it’s been rejected. Remember the great WebTV craze of ’96? You don’t because there was no craze – no one wanted it. Yes, G4’s Attack of the Show does feature some onscreen Twitter messages from viewers, but this is a niche show geared towards tech fans. They’re low-hanging fruit.

And forget Internet or Twitter functionality; this is really all about interactive television, and there’s a vast graveyard filled with failed attempts at interactive television. There was Qube, Videoway, and Time Teletext, among countless others (see Fordham University Professor John Carey’s excellent paper on Interactive TV for more info). They all offered early versions of things that are now routine on the computer – banking, games, brief text news updates – and all were ultimately rejected or failed to make it out of their test markets.

My feeling is that the big change to how we watch TV in relation to the Internet was the adoption of laptops into the living room. Watching the Giants blow a three TD lead in the 4th quarter against the Eagles and want to see if any team has ever choked this badly? Turn right to the laptop and try to find out. (I’m a Jets fan, by the way.) Want to see what people think about Anne Hathaway’s supremely annoying “Woo!” yelp after every introduction during the Oscars? Check the laptop. Just watched a weird Korean horror movie sickly recommended by your boss that you can’t unsee and want to seek professional help? Open the laptop.

I will, of course, acknowledge that there already has been tremendous convergence between television and the Internet. There’s TV content on the Internet, and the TV experience has become more web-like, with Video On Demand, interactive menus and time-shifting via DVR. But I think this might be as far as it goes for TV meets the Internet because ultimately, TV is a passive experience. It’s a one-way street, where you turn it on, sit back and watch. It’s designed to work that way and nothing has ever been able to completely change that.

Checkmate, Whitcomb!

P.S. I have no idea who added that link to John’s “Nice vision” line. No idea AT ALL.

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