What is the future of smart TV, internet TV, connected TV, IPTV, and social TV?

Ongoing developments in the field of television, web video, distribution, and new media technologies, have resulted in a diverse and growing field of television set-top boxes and software platforms, which is changing the way people use and experience television. The rise of the VCR and later DVR have allowed people to disrupt the flow created by broadcasters and make their own ‘on demand’ schedule. Content, in contrast to the Internet, was still restricted to professionally made programs and the availability within the network you were connected to (the big three broadcast networks, cable, dish).

New players in the TV market

Nowadays, new players are entering the distribution and content market combining the connectivity and availability of the web, and the experience of the television. They combine professional, amateur, and user-generated on demand content, into one interface which connects this experience to a network of social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and allowing users to install apps and web channels. The broadcasting field is more and more shifting from broadcasting to the masses towards narrow casting to the individual and personalized screen.

This change in the broadcasting and television landscape has been going on for years with products such as TiVo and DVR’s, and the integration of online platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, NFL, MLB, ESPN, and NBA television in Blu-ray players and game consoles. Websites started to create a ‘televised’ experience by creating special designed interfaces such as the YouTube ‘Lean Back’ option, and the Vimeo ‘Couch Mode’, and by providing platform based apps. In the last couple of years this trend has reached a bigger audience with the steep growth of providers of set-top boxes (device-led) and software platforms (topware), and the increased sales of internet connected HD flat screen televisions, resulting in a complex field of providers and concepts.

New providers such as Google TV, Apple TV, Roku, and Boxee are gaining market share and are entering the living room as a replacement or supplement to the current offering of cable or satellite television from example Dish Network, DirectTV, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast. This new use of the television screen is often referred to as smart, internet, connected, web, IP, or social television. But what do these terms mean? And who is using what term?

Smart TV

The term smart TV is related to the term smartphone and indicates how its abilities reach beyond the device with its connectivity to the internet and the offering of apps. The term is used by Samsung, Intel, and LG and even Google talks about how ‘your TV just got smarter’.

Connected TV

Connected TV is coined by Yahoo which has teamed up with several television producers such as Samsung, Sony, LG, VIZIO, and Toshiba, and is offering ‘the best of the web, made for TV’. Furthermore the term is used for a summit about the ‘world of connected TV’ in London.

Social TV

The concept of Social TV focuses more on the relationship and networking capabilities of television. With the integration of social networking, live chat, and instant feedback, the television experience is socialized beyond the living room. In an article by MIT Technology Review on the 10 most important emerging technologies, social TV was described as ‘relying on relationships to rebuild TV audiences’.  An example of this development was introduced by Telus, the national telecommunication giant of Canada, which introduced Facebook for their Optik TV set-up box. Read more about this innovative feature in a great article by Richard Kastelein on Appmarket.tv.

Although I am not sure if this feature will be the killer app, at least they have a great commercial:

Web TV

Another common term is Web TV. Although it contains the term TV it is focused on content specially created for the web or distributed through online channels such as YouTube, Hulu, and Blip.tv. Notable projects are ‘Interview Project’ initiated by David Lynch which is ‘a 20.000 mile road trip where people have been found and interviewed’, several web series on Sundance channel (for example the channel about American filmmaker and photographer Bruce Weber), and the MiniMovies from Submarine Channel (for example the Molotov Alpha documentary about Second Life).

Another example is The Next New Network which was recently acquired by YouTube. They consider themselves as ‘a new kind of media company’ by creating and distributing content specially made for the web (including Barely Political and the promotion of Auto-tune-the-news. Web TV is getting more attention in attempts to attract a broader audience towards online video platforms. YouTube developed a clear strategy for the promotion of (semi) professional channels and providing financial support for independent content creators. Jeremy Allaire, the founder of the online video platform provider Brightcove.com, wrote an excellent article about where online video is going in 2011 on Techcrunch.com.


IPTV is a more technical term related to the network method used to deliver content to the television or set-top boxes. It uses the packet-switched infrastructure of the internet protocol (IP) to deliver high quality content, both live and on demand, instead of using cable or satellite. It is often used for subscription based services providing a controllable and secure environment allowing more interactive and on demand services. IPTV is often used in a business setting when discussing next generation multiplatform TV as for example at the IP&TV World Forum in London.

Internet TV

And finally there is Internet TV, the broadest term of them all. Internet TV covers both online platforms, television sets, and set-top boxes. For example Hulu considers itself as Internet TV and promotes itself as ‘TV on your terms’. Also Sony has named their internet connected televisions (e.g. with Google TV) ‘Internet TV’. Samsung UK offers Internet@TV versus Smart TV in the USA. So if you are not sure which term to use, internet television is your safest bet.

A new concept of Television

But do these devices really change the traditional concept of television or TV? I believe these devices, concepts, and software platforms, are trying to provide a balance between the liveness of real-time television found in live shows, sport events, and reality TV, the traditional flow of couch potato television, the social aspect of living room television, and the networked, interactive, accessible, and social aspects of the internet. This balance is not there yet, the convergence of different technologies and media forms, the discussion about standards and regulations, and the power of traditional broadcasters, content providers, and network owners, is still reshaping the television landscape making it, especially now, a medium in transition.

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