The Wall Street Journal once reported on WebTV: “Zenith Electronics is planning a television set that will incorporate a microprocessor and modem, as well as technology developed by Diba Inc. that allows viewers to surf the Web via a remote control device.” — May 10, 1996 Edition
WebTV never really caught on with consumers. The technology was ahead of its time. Without streaming video and television services prevalent at the time, WebTV was essentially an Internet browser for a TV, marketed to people who wanted the convenience of email without the inconvenience of buying a bulky desktop computer. My, how times have changed.
Forbes magazine reported in February that Internet-based TV is catching on with every viewing demographic and the trend shows no signs of slowing. “While people are still watching much more traditional TV than streaming video, our data shows we’re on a clear and irreversible course toward an IP-delivered future,” said Bismarck Lepe, co-founder and president of products for Ooyala.
The two frontrunners vying for the hearts and minds of today’s programming-hungry masses are Apple TV and Google TV.
At their cores, Apple TV and Google TV operate much like a smartphone – providing apps, so that customers can choose their viewing destiny. There are, however, subtle differences between the two services.
Both services require the customer to buy hardware that easily connects to a cable box (Google TV) or a television (Apple TV) through an HDMI cable. Apple TV hardware is made by Apple, while Google TV hardware (called the Buddy Box) is produced by a third-party (Sony and Vizio), and some newer TVs come with Google TV included.
Apple TV’s featured apps include Hulu Plus, Netflix and Vimeo apps, while also providing original programming from the Wall Street Journal and a limited amount of programming from the NBA, NHL and MLB networks (game recaps, not games). Google TV’s featured apps include HBO GO, Netflix, Amazon, Pandora and original programming from Crackle. While access to these apps is included, customers still must pay monthly for the actual services (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.). So while you have access to Netflix software, you still have to pay for the monthly service if you want the programming.
It’s a close race for which service is better. The technology is still too new with too few users for a clear victor to emerge. But as customers become more familiar with the benefits of these devices and more developers enter the market, it’s likely that Apple, Google or a player to be named later will dominate the Internet TV market.