In the past year or so, I have written fairly often on the development of the new generation of web-enabled TV's and the various deals being made between web-based companies and hardware manufacturers. It has been clear for some time that web-based media is finally heading for the living room big screen. This should be the key to real-time interaction between consumers and content providers. However, the actual mechanism for this interaction has not been clear -- at least not to me.
This article in yesterday's Hollywood Reporter gives a simple explanation of the missing link between consumers and big-screen web content -- it's widgets. With companies like Yahoo taking the lead, there is a quickly growing inventory of software widgets which will sit on the screen of web-connected televisions. These widgets will allow viewers to interact with the programming, or keep track of information unrelated to the programming, or engage in any variety of online activities without pausing the program or looking away from the television.
Up until now, a growing number of consumers have been simultaneously using their computers to access web content while they are watching their favorite programs on TV -- risking neck injury as they quickly look back and forth between the big screen and the small screen. This chiropractic dilemma will soon be solved as widgets will allow consumers to create custom web interfaces that sit in the corners or edges of their TV screens, allowing them to enhance or supplement their viewing experience in any number of ways.
From a business standpoint, the article outlines the cost of developing these software tools vs. the lack of a clear revenue stream. The revenue potential is obvious to me. This is the "buy" button that has been fighting for space on TV remote controls for years. Using the same payment system that powers pay-per-view (or pre-loaded secure credit card information or prepaid debit accounts or PayPal or any number of other methods), we will be able to order any product or service at the very moment it is being shown to us. We will be able to participate in game shows as the broadcast is unfolding. We will be able to engage in genuinely shared viewing experiences with friends on the other side of the room or the other side of the country. The possibilities are almost endless.
Read the article and then just think about it for 10 or 15 minutes and I bet you will have a half dozen great ideas for how this technology will be used. Those ideas are the basis of a huge business opportunity. Interactive television will be its own media category. Decades from now, these widgets will be looked upon as one of the developments that completely changed the media landscape. This has the potential to be as revolutionary as television or the Internet itself.