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Experts Mull State of Connected Devices

19 Oct, 2010 By: Chris Tribbey

SANTA MONICA, Calif. —HDTVs packed with tons of Internet applications are the norm today, so it was no surprise to hear experts on the subject debate, “Who’s the king of the digital living room?”

One of the hardware companies? Apple? AT&T? Yahoo? Google, with a full Internet browser on new HDTVs?

None of the above, according to Mitch Singer, chief technology officer for Sony Pictures Entertainment, and president of the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE).

“I want the consumer to be the king of the digital living room,” he said, speaking Oct. 18 at the Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit. “We have to give the consumer more choice, more control.”

DECE is hoping to play a big part in the digital living room of today and tomorrow, with its roughly 60 members creating a “buy once, play anywhere” digital locker world for consumers and their content. Its brand name, UltraViolet, would compliment physical media by giving consumers access to their disc content on a wide range of hardware.

“We’re not trying to change behavior,” noted Russ Schafer, senior direct product marketing for Yahoo’s Connected TV division. “We’re trying to provide a solution that compliments that behavior.”

Yahoo! Connected TV was among the first to catch on to the idea that consumers might want to interact with content on their TVs, instead of treating it like the passive device it had been for 70-plus years. Today, Yahoo’s widgets are used on TVs by people in more than 135 countries.

With nearly 20% of American broadband households paying an average of $5 a month to watch TV or movie content on their PCs, and 5% paying an average of $6.50 a month to do the same via a video game console, according to research from Parks Associates, the digital living room is already a reality, and with more devices offering more options — and at cheaper prices — it can become a reality for more and more people, panelists agreed.

“All retailers benefit from technological change,” said Ryan Pirozzi, director of movies for Best Buy. “[But] we’re focused on the obstacles of legacy devices.”

When consumer electronics become obsolete after just a couple of years, customers may lose the “trust and confidence” they have in both retailers and the latest gadgets, he said. He did note that Walmart is still selling VCRs (“Which blows my mind,” he laughed) and that “Best Buy still has a huge DVD business.”

Another part of the digital living room equation involves giving everyone the ability to use all the connected features included with their hardware, Pirozzi noted. He shared a story about a neighbor who returned a device loaded with connected applications because the neighbor had DSL, not broadband. And with the United States lagging far behind other developed countries in overall broadband penetration and speed, it’s a central problem that needs to be addressed, Pirozzi said.

“U.S. residential broadband has to improve,” he said. “ It has to. We have to focus on getting everyone up to the technology where it’s possible to make the digital living room a reality.”


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