Future of TV? Snapping, swiping and surfing

NEW YORK Fri Dec 3, 2010 3:48am IST

A customer (C) watches a television broadcast at an electronic store in Seoul February 26, 2010. Kim took the gold medal.  REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

A customer (C) watches a television broadcast at an electronic store in Seoul February 26, 2010. Kim took the gold medal.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fall back on your sofa in five years, snap your fingers to turn on a TV that's thin as paper and stretches across a wall, then ask it to switch to your favorite sports channel so you can watch the day's baseball game in 3-D -- no glasses required.

This is a portrait painted by top executives when asked about the future of TV at this week's Reuters Global Media Summit. Not all agreed on details -- some, like Viacom Chief Executive Philippe Dauman, warned big changes could take more than five years given that people tend to have "a very optimistic view of how quickly and widely devices will be adopted."

But there was broad consensus that the act of kicking back in the living room to watch TV was not about to go away. Indeed, executives said the experience will only grow richer, and hopefully simpler.

"You don't want in the future for people to have to have a PhD in device management to use their media products," said Time Warner Inc Chief Executive Jeffrey Bewkes.

Speaking in Paris, Frederic Rose, CEO of French set-top box maker Technicolor, said that in five years' time he hoped the living room would feature one big screen TV, one remote, and one set-top box that allowed viewers to connect to the Internet, watch live TV, and search for video and movies.

"Today it can often take a dozen clicks to find one news program," he said. "There are too many boxes, too many remotes, and too much hardware."

Frustrating, confusing remote controls were the most frequently mentioned problem with the current TV experience -- and that is during a time when the remote is not expected to do much above the basic functions of adjusting volume, changing the channel, fast-forwarding or scrolling through a listing guide.

"The typical remote control is not useful for playing video games. The video game controller is not useful for watching films. Neither of those is useful for search. They are dumb controllers," said Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard Inc, the video game company behind "Call of Duty."

He and others said that would have to change if the TV were ever to blossom into a screen where consumers could not only watch shows and play games, but could also write e-mails, video chat with friends, read the newspaper or shop online for groceries.

For all of that, consumers would likely want a single remote control that would allow them to navigate across media -- even if that remote control is not anything that can be held in your hand or flung across the room.

Anne Sweeney, chief of Walt Disney Co's ABC, said her own observations -- what she calls "kitchen research" -- offer some clues as to what consumers expect down the road.

"I've seen more than one kid go up to the television set and try to move something, or I've seen them try to change the channel by swiping their hand," she said at the Media Summit. "You realize these behaviors are so quickly learned."

Another gaming executive and media industry veteran, Strauss Zelnick, chairman of Take-Two Interactive Software Inc, said one critical feature for consumers is that all their entertainment devices be "wireless, synced, compatible, pretty seamless and plug-and-play," meaning they do not require constant calls to a helpdesk.

"That's idealized, because the personal computer revolution started in the late 1970s and it still ain't plug-and-play," he added.

As for the television itself, he predicted that "you've got a very large-format flatscreen television in the living room that is almost like wallpaper, not quite. Very high-quality, very high-definition."

Indeed, few could see any reason why the big screen TV would be made obsolete by popularity of mobile devices along the lines of Apple Inc's iPad.

"The big TVs aren't going to go anywhere. It's like the automobile. We're a country that just likes big TVs," said Robert Bowman, chief executive of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.

(Additional reporting by Georgina Prodhan in London and Leila Abboud in Paris; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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