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The Biggest Problem for Apple TV and Friends

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This morning, my colleague Justin Rohrlich was excited to tell me some news. Over the weekend, he had purchased a Roku HD Box and instantly fell in love with it. He mentioned that he streamed a bunch of movies from Netflix and experimented with some of the third party apps like YouTube and PodTV. "I love not sitting down and just passively drooling in front of a TV," he told me.

Now, Justin's an (arguably) intelligent bloke. He actively seeks out news and content both educational and entertaining. He's the type of guy who prefers to have control over the shows and films he watches. Justin would rather not let the networks force feed watered-down content to the lowest common denominator.

In other words, he's wholly different from the typical American TV viewer.

Although cutting the cord to cable in favor of Hulu and online video is catching on, average tech-adverse people are hesitant to completely eliminate the braindead ease of the old-fashioned boob tube. And that is the biggest hurdle to home media centers becoming the norm.

Underscoring this, advertising agency Hill Holiday conducted an experiment where it provided five households with five different "Connected TV" devices -- namely Roku, Boxee Box, Google TV, Apple TV, and Xbox 360 -- to use instead of cable TV. On its blog, the company explained its methodology:

"The five families we selected were fairly diverse in their composition, media habits and levels of technical expertise (and we are extremely grateful to them for letting us disrupt their lives). Everyone had either Netflix or iTunes accounts (some had both), and most had devices other than their cable box already hooked up to their TVs. Every family watched at least 16 hours of television a week (self-reported), watched video online, had a modern TV set, a cable or satellite subscription, broadband access and a wireless set-up."

A week after replacing their cable with their respective box, Hill Holiday interviewed the subjects.

Fans of home media centers, you might want to look away.

An Experiment In Cord Cutting from Hill Holliday on Vimeo.

The general consensus was, essentially, "I work for a living! I don't have time to know what I want to watch! I don't want to be an active member in my own entertainment! Turn on Two and a Half Men, will ya?!"

Admittedly, there are kinks to be worked out in the media center process. Aside from confusing interfaces, extra controllers, and closed-minded, worrywart studios, few have the option to air live TV. This inconvenience could be mitigated with a setting that cycles through programming at random -- similar to the shuffle setting on an iPod. Choose a group of favorite programs, hit shuffle, and sit back as if a network is choosing it for you.

Because at this point, if the limit to the general public's willingness to control their own TV ends with the DVR, we're all in trouble.

(See also Studios Balk at Apple's Rental Plan and Can Google TV Ever Recover?)
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.