Technologists began talking about the delivery of entertainment and information services to the living room more than 20 years ago. But we're still waiting for the catch-all vision that falls under the title of convergence to become a reality.
No doubt, this is not a venture for the feint of heart. The graveyard of technofailures is littered with fruitless attempts at interactive TV. And while some of the ideas might ultimately prove to have been ahead of their time, most have never connected with consumers.
What's more, the medium hasn't changed dramatically since the days of Ed Sullivan, and most of the technology advances since then have turned what was a very passive activity into an even more passive one.
TiVo furnishes a great example. You regularly hear about TiVo customers who say the device has changed their lives. Yet the company continues to struggle with only 3 million subscribers--a veritable rounding error in the world of TV viewership. The failure of TiVo to catch fire speaks volumes about consumer passivity. The appliance might be
much better than a VCR, but it remains too complicated for most consumers to install and interact with.
Perhaps the technology industry's biggest mistake was to overestimate the desire to engage with new technology and underestimate how difficult it is to change consumer habits. So it is that some pundits believe that interactive TV will fail because consumers don't want to do
anything but zone out front of the tube. That may be true for the Baby Boomer generation. But new forces in motion may finally transform TV forever.
Convergence refers to the notion that once there are ubiquitous high-speed, broadband connections into households, several technologies
that have heretofore been delivered via discrete technologies and networks will all converge on the digital data technology that has powered the Internet: TCP/IP. When that happens, every appliance in your home will ultimately be transformed.
Before the Internet bubble popped, the concept of convergence became so overplayed that it seemingly joined George Carlin's famous list of unmentionable words. If uttered at all in media and Wall Street circles, it was referred to as "the C word." Convergence was so highly misunderstood that it was written off as a Silicon Valley pipe dream. Yet here we are in 2005, and it is playing out right before our very eyes.
Today, your telephone calls are delivered via a decades-old circuit-switched network. Your cable TV is delivered via a completely separate network, or perhaps your TV comes via good old-fashioned broadcast signals or maybe satellite. If you live in one of the 50 percent of households in the United States that have high-speed Internet, via either cable modem or DSL, that's yet another network.