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Why Your TV May One Day Look Like a Giant iPad


Different apps already allow integration between TVs and smartphones and tablets.


Regardless of the route they take to get there, the end result is the same. Whether television makers begin to incorporate touch screen and tablet functionality into their products, or the tablet makers simply start making 30-, 40-, and 50-inch versions, the American home of the not-so-distant future will have a giant iPad (NASDAQ:AAPL) as the center of its living room.

Already, traditional television viewing is moving onto the tablet. A recent study shows as much as 15% of full-length television viewing is streamed on a tablet. In fact when broken down by room, the TV may still be king of the living room, but tablets have replaced them in the bedroom.

Increasingly, the idea of spending your night in front of the tube has become less appealing to Americans, even as we spend more and more time consuming content. For the past decade, the networks have lived in fear of the day when viewers simply stopped turning on the television and went straight to their laptops, but with the rise of tablets and smartphones a third possibility has risen: the tablet as a companion to the television, rather than a replacement.

Declining television viewership has been an issue since the end of the days of "The Big 3." According to one recent study by Morgan Stanley, broadcast television viewership has fallen by over 50% since 2002. Similarly, cable subscriptions are on the decline as customers discover they can access content "on-demand" through various streaming services. Why pay $150 for 300 channels you don't watch, when you can pay $9 to watch the three shows you actually care about?

In fact, a fair amount of content is now being created for these non-network sources. YouTube (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) have increased both the budget and the volume of their Web series, while Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has had a very high profile hit with its Kevin Spacey/David Fincher collaboration, House of Cards. The initial success of that show suggests that networks aren't necessary to produce a hit, though big budgets, massive promotions and a bankable actor/director combo certainly help.

What is perhaps more indicative of the direction television is heading is the increasing phenomenon of "second screen viewing." Intuitively, we all know this is happening, but it has just now been identified as a trend that media companies should be examining rather than engaging in handwringing about the attention spans of our children.

Think of the stereotypical Monday night in the middle American home. Monday Night Football might be on the big screen, but Mom's reading the news on her tablet. The kids are texting their friends or playing Angry Birds on their smartphones. And even Dad isn't totally focused on the big game, as he checks out his Fantasy Draft pics and "social shares," his witty commentary, or ideas for next season's pun-based team name.

Obviously, this is hardly new. Technology has been working towards a personalized experience since at least the Walkman (if not the printing press). But it's just now that this proliferation of personalization is starting to be viewed as a chance to change the home viewing experience.

App makers have been quickest to react to this trend by releasing apps that are specifically designed to coordinate with the large screen viewing experience. New apps have effectively replaced the channel guide and the remote control, but the more ambitious projects are the ones that catch the eye.

Projects like ZeeBox attempt to lasso social networking into the experience. Users "check in" to a show and get an aggregation of tweets, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) comments and other social network posts regarding the show they are watching. More impressively, Yahoo's "IntoNow" has an app that can identify the television show that's being watched within four seconds, based on the audio, and can instantly aggregate social network posts.

The app also displays related information like production notes, soundtrack listings, and various multimedia features that the production company may have available, creating a sort of visual version of the hypertext movement. As with Shazam, a similar service for music recognition, the effectiveness of the product is somewhat dependent on background sound. A noisy room will make the experience less than seamless.

Perhaps the most intriguing development is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox's SmartGlass app that uses the viewer's Xbox in sync with a tablet to provide a truly linked experience. Viewers of this season's Game of Thrones will be able to have synced content that will directly reflect the action on their screen, including interactive maps, character guides, production commentaries, behind-the-scenes features and other added content that aims to provide a vast new viewing experience.

But while second-screen viewing is probably here to stay, the question of who will win the battle for the living room remains. Most of the big names in TV production have launched so-called "smart TVs" that allow for integration with streaming services such as Hulu Plus and Netflix, with Sony (NYSE:SNE) or Samsung (PINK:SSNLF) leading the pack.

There are, of course, third-party devices that let viewers use their TV in this way, such as Roku and Apple TV, while owners of Xboxes and PS3's have been using their gaming systems this way for years. Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC), in a clear effort to stop the bleeding, recently offered customers a chance to buy Roku along with the option to "watch up to 300 channels of live TV." This is clearly Time Warner playing defense in an effort to prevent paid subscribers from canceling high-priced premium packages for a $9-per-month charge from Netflix.

So far, none of the big boys has offered a TV that integrates all of this technology in the screen itself, perhaps feeling burnt by the awful TV/VCR combos that plagued the late '90s. On the tablet end, the largest available screen is currently 16 inches, which is more than adequate for catching Mad Men from the comfort of your bed. But it still lacks the room-dominating force of current big screen TVs. The price of larger click screens (and potential for costly repairs) are currently prohibitive, but it's only a matter of time before one of them makes the tablet/TV hybrid that will change the way the world entertains itself.

Editor's Note: This article by Josh Herr originally appeared on The Fiscal Times.

For more from The Fiscal Times:

The Short, Dramatic Life of Apple's iTunes Music Store

Social TV: 6 Apps That Will Transform Television in 2013

The Robot Reality: Service Jobs Are Next to Go

Follow The Fiscal Times on Twitter @TheFiscalTimes.

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