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Internet and TV: a marriage that never works

Column: Intel and Yahoo are the latest to try to merge the two media. Why past efforts have failed.

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Attitude toward the Internet on the tube tempered a bit after that, but we were still hearing about “the revolution” in 2000. In another Monitor article, Harry Brunius wrote: “so far, attempts by the high-tech industry to make TV even more the center of American life – with games, online shopping, and e-mail – have been met with all the avid interest generally shown to cooking infomercials.

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“That may be about to change. Later this month, America Online will launch AOLTV, its version of interactive television. With its online community of 22.5 million members and its pending merger with TimeWarner, AOL could become one of the first to bring the new era of digital television to a broad audience.”

Anyone out there who remembers AOLTV raise your hand ... anyone? That’s what I thought.
So now we have The Widget Channel. The names change, but the tune remains the same. I don’t mean to rain on Yahoo and Intel’s parade, but here is why I don’t think it will work:

•The experience of watching TV as opposed to using a laptop computer or mobile device is different. I watch TV when I want to “veg out.” It’s a passive activity, while using a computer or cellphone is more interactive. And watching TV with a keyboard in your hand just won’t fly, in my opinion. I mean, we argue now about who gets to use the remote control. Imagine if that argument expands to an interactive TV keyboard.

•TV is a “one to many” medium. When a show is on the tube, the entire family can sit and watch. But when I’m online, whether checking e-mail or reading the news, I want to do it on my own.

But some aspects of the Internet-TV marriage can work. For example, downloading movies from Netflix to your TV is brilliant, because movies are a shared viewing experience. In this case, we’re using the Internet not as an interactive medium, but as a quicker delivery mechanism than the US mail.

I can also see a widget working when you want to vote someone off “Survivor” or for your favorite singer on “American Idol.” (Then again, who at home gets to decide how to vote if one of you likes David Archuleta and the other likes David Cook?)

But don’t be surprised if, in four or five years, we’re hearing about yet another breakthrough in the struggle to get us to move from the computer to the TV. And then we can also look for news on the latest breakthrough in cold fusion.

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