In the run up to Diwali, the newspapers were full of ads for 'smart' television sets from Sony, Samsung, LG and others. But are our TVs really smart? As of now, the honest answer is they are not. Though you can connect most new high-end TVs to the Internet and use some limited applications on them, they have functional deficiencies and lack a user-friendly interface. Even connecting them to the Net requires technical knowhow.
User-friendliness matters a lot. Apple did not invent the smartphone. What it did was to make the smartphone easy to use. Which is exactly what needs to be done with 'smart' TVs. The good news is that a host of consumer electronics and information technology companies are already on the job.
It is impossible to predict what kind of device or technology will capture hearts and minds in the future. Whichever device wins will need to be intuitive in designing an accessible interface, and must also provide a dazzling library of content. Overseas, devices such as the TiVo, a digital video recorder, or DVR, have transformed the way people watch TV. In India, many direct to home, or DTH, and Internet Protocol TV, or IPTV, providers offer similar services. But these are still programmes recorded in a traditional way, that is while being broadcast over a TV channel.
Increasingly, thanks to ever-increasing Net speeds, things will change. One of the most progressive TV channels in India is Colors. I don't say so because of its programming, which I'm not qualified to judge, belonging as I do to a different demographic - both age-wise and sexwise - from the one it seeks to cater to, but because the channel hosts most of its shows on YouTube. You can, therefore, watch them at your convenience - instead of during a fixed time slot - and the network earns some money, too, in the process. This will become the norm in the future.
Your TV set will be able to access video on demand, or VOD, all the time and while some traditional broadcast channels may survive in their current form - news and live sports, for example - it is likely that instead of buying channel packages as we do now, we may buy programme packages or even bulk hourly rates. You could buy, say, a 100-hour package every month allowing you to watch 100 hours of programming, irrespective of the channel you choose.
Some may argue that India is a 'poor country' with insufficient connectivity for all this to happen. Agreed, connectivity and affordability will have to improve. But then a few years ago people also said flatpanel displays were only for the rich. Today there are big splashy ads even in the regional language media, selling such TV sets. So be warned, not only is your TV changing, but so is the way you watch it.