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Why Web widgets will invade your TV

Web widgets bring Internet perks to the biggest screen in most people’s homes.

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About 400,000 TVs sold in the US this year will be Web-enabled. But by 2013, about 13.8 million TV sets in US households will be Web-enabled, says a study from Parks Associates.

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“We think it’s exciting. We think it’s real,” says Howard Bass, a partner at Ernst & Young’s Global Media & Entertainment Center. Last month, Ernst & Young released a report on TV widgets predicting that they “could be the catalyst to widespread adoption of Web-enabled TV.”

Widgets won’t try to duplicate a computer screen on TVs. That’s not what TV viewers are looking for, analysts say. Instead, widgets offer a simple point-and-click experience using the existing TV remote control.

“All they need to know is left, right, up, down, and OK,” says Russ Schafer, senior director for Connected TV at Yahoo. The company announced earlier this year that it had teamed with chipmaker Intel to promote development of widgets for TVs.

Yahoo has tested TV widgets with people from 18-year-olds to those in their 60s and universally found them easy to use, Mr. Schafer says.

The coming months should be “the big blowout year for connected TVs,” Schafer predicts about 2010.

Among the widget connections Yahoo is offering now, or will be shortly, are USA Today’s sports news; YouTube; and casual games, such as Sudoku. Yahoo provides about 20 widgets now but has potentially thousands more in the pipeline, Schafer says, some of which will show up by early 2010.

Another major player in TV widgets, Verizon FiOS, continues to expand its network of digital television and broadband Internet services over its US fiber-optic lines.

Verizon FiOS and Internet customers in the New York City area now can get video of local traffic conditions via a TV widget called “NYC 311.” Live cameras, operated by the City of New York, show conditions on roads in all five boroughs of the city. Viewers can zoom in for a closer look at a particular road and set “favorites” to go immediately to the routes they use to commute each day.

The ESPN Fantasy Football Widget, available to viewers who’ve signed up for ESPN’s fantasy football leagues, displays personalized football statistics, such as box scores, league rankings, and information on players.

In the Yahoo-Intel Widget Gallery, the eBay widget permits users to receive real-time updates on their accounts, place bids, and monitor favorite items. Users can view photos or search for and compare prices of items. A New York Times widget lets viewers see headlines, photos, and stories, and forward them to their mobile phone.