The convergence of television and Web-delivered content is going to grow up in a hurry this holiday season. Between Apple TV and Logitech's
Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if there were room for both in more than a few stockings this year.
The thing is that Google and Apple aren't necessarily breaking new ground here. Netflix
However, lost in all of this is that the television experience isn't ideal. We've gone from rabbit ears to dozens of cable channels to hundreds of cable and satellite television channels. We have a growing number of on-demand options, and convergence means that you don't have to leave the recliner to tap into Hulu and YouTube.
Where's the spontaneity, though? Where's the surprise? Where -- may I ask -- is the radio experience?
The spirit of radio
I'm sure that television moguls laugh at their radio brethren. When someone is homely, they say they have a face for radio. When it comes to cable subscriptions, someone can easily be set back more than $100 a month.
Terrestrial radio is free. Those who seek deeper genre dives or want to skirt commercials can stream music discovery sites or pay up roughly $15 a month to join the 19.5 million -- and growing -- subscribers of Sirius XM Radio
However, there's one thing that radio does that digital television doesn't do. There's no randomizer button. There's no shuffle play. There's no double-take surprise that finds you scrambling to learn more about the entertainer that you are experiencing for the first time.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Google TV or Apple TV will have the kind of functionality built in. If they can scour the Web for content, they should be able to serve up tasty recommendations.
Color me skeptical, though. Netflix prides itself on its deep library of flicks and viewer data. After a handful of subscriber ratings, the site can serve up customized suggestions. It rocks. I know. I've been a Netflix subscriber since 2002. So now that Netflix is streaming through countless Wi-Fi-tethered home theaters, why isn't there an "I'm Feeling Lucky" button that sorts through the roughly 20,000 available titles vegetating on its server farm to surprise me with something special?
I understand why Netflix has never bothered with a "Surprise Me" option for its mail service. Between the round-trip postage, handling, and any related licensing fees, an unwanted disc can cost the company if it's returned immediately. Bandwidth isn't free when it comes to a wasted online recommendation, but it's certainly more economical.
Maybe it's just me, but I want the Pandora-zation of my television. I want to be surprised. I want a set-top box that can dig up an obscure sitcom that it knows I will like, working in some local interest news bits, an amusing viral video or two, and other short-form content pieces.
Will I get it? Why shouldn't I? Apple's cheapest iPod is a shuffle -- and that's exactly what it does with a large playlist. Google is the originator of the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button. This is an obvious feature.
We are TiVo
By now, longtime TiVo owners will point out that the DVR pioneer has been recording shows that it feels box owners will like through its TiVo Suggestions offering for years.
It's a good start, but it's clearly not the finish line. TiVo recommendations are limited by hard drive space, and they must have been prerecorded. There is no shift to real-time programming or cloud-hopping excursions for timely Web-stored suggestions.
With a name like FLO, one would think that Qualcomm's
There's still plenty to be learned from the radio industry. There's still a mix-tape culture to carve out when it comes to digital video -- beyond sharing YouTube clips on social networks. There needs to be the DJ equivalent for televised content programming for folks to fanatically follow. Right now, TV buffs follow individual shows and little else.
The future of digital television -- and all of its smarter players -- is bright. It just needs to get started.
What will it take for digital video to succeed in the living room? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Google is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Apple and Netflix are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Logitech International SA is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection. Motley Fool Options has recommended a written covered strangle position on Logitech International SA. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, Logitech International SA, and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz didn't even know that potatoes grow in couches. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article, except for Netflix. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.