Where Will Television Be in 2020?

Think bundling, internet-connected and really hi-def

So where will television be in 2020? Seems an appropriate question with the annual NAB Show winding down. And also the subject of a panel I led last week in Vegas with execs from DreamWorks, Sony Electronics, Starz, Nielsen and  Technicolor. 

Of course, nobody really knows what TV will look like in two years, let alone most of a decade. But the panel boldly took some educated guesses.

To wit:  

All TV Will Be á là Carte. Consumers are sick and tired of paying for channels they don’t want — and will demand operators give them exactly what they desire, said Jim Mainard, head of production development for DreamWorks Animation and vice chairman of the International 3D Society. Programming, (Shrek, anyone?) will be king. Operators, notice how consumers pick whatever mobile apps they want?  That's your TV future.

Bundling Will Be Alive and Well. Au contraire, said Stephan Shelanski, executive vice president of programming for Starz Entertainment. Unbundling programming would create a cacophony of programs and channels: programmers would have trouble promoting their product over the din; consumers would be confused. Also, operators would have to make their money somehow, so the price of individual channels and shows could soar. Not going to happen.

You Think This is High-Def?  24 frames a second is so 2011. How about 150 fps or higher? That could be standard in 2020, said  Peter Lude, Senior VP, 
Solutions Engineering for Sony Electronics and president of SMPTE. 
Get ready for shades of magenta and other colors you’ve never seen on a TV.

3DTV Arrives … Sort Of. 3D will be better and there will be a lot more content, but consumers will be selective about what they don glasses for. Sports, yes, talk shows, no. And yes, there will probably still be glasses. Glassless technology will be largely there, but beyond most consumers’ pocketbooks.

Interestingly, 3DTV will be driven by movies and mobile. Turns out we can already display 3D just fine on devices like the Nintendo 3DS, which is selling well in the U.S. market. Expect mobile phones, tablets and laptops to increasingly go 3D over the next few years, helping drive adoption of 3DTV.

Connected TV Will Be Universal. Broad agreement here. All TV sets will be web-connected. Consumers will buy shows on demand over the Internet and view web video on their TVs. However, expect some kind of tiered presentation, possibly built around bandwidth. You’d be willing to pay more for bandwidth to watch “Game of Thrones” than dog skateboarding, right?

Speaking of bandwidth, it’s going to be a very big issue. Connected TVs running 3D video at super-fast frame rates will require many more megabits per second of throughput than today’s pipes.

Touch Devices Replace Remotes. No love lost here. That awful point-and-click will be replaced by touch-sensitive, interactive devices, including tablets and multi-purpose smartphones. We’re already texting and checking the internet as we watch, after all.

But things will be a lot more slick in 2020. Nielsen SVP for Product Development Scott Maddux demonstrated audio watermarking technology that allows TV signals to synch with iPads and mobile phones — allowing BMW, say, to create an interactive extension of an ad playing on TV that matches the on-screen action in real time.

Don’t expect to be gesturing at your TV or talking to it, a la Microsoft’s Kinect or Minority Report. People won’t be ready for that by 2020, although they may be by 2030. I was surprised that panelists weren't more excited about the potential of gestures, but then I also thought Google's "Gmail Motion" announcement on April 1 was pretty cool, too.