2007 Tech Trends No. 1: Telly 2.0

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First in a series of posts highlighting Tech Digest’s pick of big technology trends for the second half of 2007…

Let’s get one thing clear first. Online TV ISN’T about watching TV on your PC. Well, it is at the moment, because most of the people doing it are geeks like you and me. But in the long term, online TV is about delivering TV through your broadband connection to a proper TV in your living room, bedroom or wherever.

And that’s why the next six months are going to be so interesting. The services that early adopters are watching on their monitors now – and there’s a lot of them springing up – will be the ones that everybody else is watching on their TVs in a couple of years time.

What makes a good Telly 2.0 service? A few ideas immediately present themselves. It’ll probably be streaming video, although potentially with paid-for downloads if you want to keep shows. It’ll be free to watch with revenues coming from advertising – a business model that’s second nature to the TV industry.

It’ll feature a mixture of big-name shows from big-name TV companies (Desperate Housewives, 24, Chucklevision…) and quirkier user-generated content from us, the viewers – we’ll probably be called something grim like ‘participators’ of course. And wrapped around the programmes will be all manner of Web 2.0 wizardry, including live chat, user reviews and ratings, and the ability to embed shows in your own blog or social networking profile.

Cool, eh? At least, this is what it should be like, if the Big Media firms and broadcasting regulators don’t mess it up.

babelgum-screen.jpgThe next six months will see Telly 2.0 startups like Joost and Babelgum (pictured) ironing out the kinks in their technologies, and gathering all-important feedback from their users in order to refine the services. They’re already pretty impressive, as our review of Babelgum shows.

But the most interesting thing to see in the next six months is how the Big Media companies tackle the area. Thankfully, they’re already showing signs of a ‘join ’em, don’t try to beat ’em in the courts’ attitude.

Take Viacom. Okay, so it’s suing YouTube for a billion dollars for copyright infringement, which isn’t exactly progressive. But Viacom has also partnered with Joost in a content licensing deal to make its shows available on the latter’s site (admittedly, this may be partly about blowing a big corporate raspberry in Google/YouTube’s direction).

Meanwhile, NBC/Universal and News Corporation are working on their own Telly 2.0 service, which will offer both companies’ TV shows and films. It was due to launch this summer, but is now slated for a September debut.

Meanwhile, CBS has gone even further, and announced plans to set up its own ‘interactive audience network’, which will include Joost but also AOL, MSN, CNET and Bebo, with each site showing CBS shows on its own embedded video player, and sharing the advertising revenue.

Finally, here in the UK, the broadcasters have all been working on their own online catch-up services – think the BBC’s iPlayer, Channel 4’s 4oD, and BSkyB’s Sky Anytime. But there’s also talk of the terrestrial broadcasters launching their own Telly 2.0 platform – codenamed Project Kangaroo – which will offer on-demand downloads.

In the next six months, we’ll see if the big broadcasters can walk the Telly 2.0 walk as well as they’ve been talking the talk. It’s going to be very interesting.

KEY QUESTIONS

1. Will the broadcasters just shovel their existing shows online, or will they also come up with original programming ideas that capitalise on Web 2.0 features?

2. Will Telly 2.0 provide a platform for quirky, niche shows to get a wide audience? And will amateurs come up with great TV ideas beyond the obvious ‘ooh, I set my testicles on fire’ Jackass knock-offs?

3. If the new series of, say, Lost is airing on US TV, will it be streaming online at the same time? If so, can I watch it in the UK, even though it’s not airing on regular TV for a few months? And if so, what’s the point of Sky paying millions for it as an exclusive?

4. Where is Google and YouTube in this new world of Telly 2.0? Will YouTube expand to offer long-form programmes, or will Google buy Joost or Babelgum?

THE FULL TECH TRENDS LIST
1: Telly 2.0
2: Green Gadgets
3: Blu-ray and HD DVD convergence
4: Virtual Reality
5: Touchscreens
6: Mobile social networking
7: Lifecasting
8: Bluetooth music
9: DRM-free music
10: Wi-Fi personal media players

Stuart Dredge