Smarter Is More Better

The plunging, fiery death of plasma TVs, the mind bendingly questionable benefits of curved TVs, the looks-awesome-up-close-and-personal 4K TVs, the ridiculously low prices on ridiculously big TVs, the intriguing new investments in quantum-dot TV manufacturing plants—the wide world of televisions is lively with fast and furious developments. But there is one development in particular that, I think, will overshadow all the others.

That development, of course, is smart TV. Remember when "convergence" was the buzzword? Clearly, now "connectivity" is on the cutting-edge. Consider smartphones—essentially small computers with some video and audio thrown in, their most important attribute is connectivity. That means you can check Facebook, browse YouTube, search the web, stream virtually any piece of music ever recorded, and even make phone calls. The point is that phones are portals to a vast amount of interactive digital content. And the more places your portal goes, the more powerful and desirable it is.

Now consider TVs. They are portals too—always have been. The oldest ones accessed a handful of broadcast channels. Then cable and satellite greatly increased the number of channels; correspondingly, TVs became much more powerful. Now, smart TVs up the ante. Although many models currently only offer limited access, full web browsing will soon be as standard a piece of equipment as the AC cord. That connectivity will guarantee their continued importance in the marketplace and in people's lives.

In turn, smart TVs will have tremendous influence. Traditional broadcast companies will face unprecedented competition, and cord-cutters will rejoice. As providers like Netflix and Amazon ramp up their 4K offerings, smart TVs will become the driving force behind 4K. Along the same lines, to survive, any AV technology must max out its connectivity.

Hang-wringers lament that many consumers are losing interest in audio technology. That's (maybe) only true if the audio device lacks connectivity. An audio device with connectivity (like a smartphone) doesn't have any problems at all in fascinating consumers. Note to anyone developing a music playback device: if it doesn't have full connectivity, don't bother. In the same way that smart TVs will drive acceptance of 4K, smart music players may be the only way to drive interest in hi-res audio.

But I digress. Back on point: do you still need convincing that smart TVs are large and in charge? Consider this: On fixed networks, the most traffic, by a wide margin, is that from Netflix. It comprises fully 32% of traffic, with YouTube coming in second at 13%. They are followed by http traffic at 8.5%, BitTorrent at 5%, Facebook at 3%, and so on. Now, obviously, Netflix generates a lot of traffic because video streams are inherently bit-heavy. But still—about a third of all the bits flowing on the internet are people watching movies on their TVs. That says something.

As a side note, the numbers are somewhat different on mobile networks. Facebook generates the most traffic at 19%, with YouTube at 18%; Netflix is a distant 4%, not much more than bit-light Pandora at 2.5%. People are watching lots of streaming movies on their home TVs—not so much on their phones.

Sure—the number of pixels, screen size, and all that stuff is important, but it's the smartness of the TV, its connectivity, that will persuade people to buy new TVs. And that in turn will change what they watch on TV.

Oreo's picture

While I agree with your article for the most part, your numbers don't show devices, just networks. With the limited data plans of most wireless carriers, I tend to only stream video when connected to Wi-Fi, which contributes to that fixed network number. Most of the time I'll stream something to my big screen, but if it's busy, I'll watch on my phone.

Just an alternate take.