War for TV: inside the fight for the living room

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This week we're taking a close look at the future of TV and the living room — the great unclaimed space of the technology world. Check back each day for a close look at all the major players, along with a full range of interviews with industry players and reports on everything from the state of remote controls to the future of gaming. Tune in all week for the rest. Scroll through the guide for a sampling:


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Mar 25 12:37p

As broadcast TV ratings fall, advertisers eye cable and web video

The broadcast TV business has had a rough run this season and next season isn't looking much better. Starting from last fall when their new shows debuted, all four major US networks saw a drop in viewers in the age 18-to-49 demographic, the group most prized by advertisers, The Wall Street Journal reports today. Fox saw ratings for this group decline 23 percent through March, ABC's ratings declined eight percent, NBC's by seven percent, and CBS's by three percent. As audiences tune out of...

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Nov 29 12:12p

How Apple can build the next-generation TV

(Or Google, or Microsoft, or Samsung. But it won’t be easy.) Continue reading »


Is Netflix’s streaming focus building a house of cards?

It’s easy to take Netflix for granted. These days it seems like every tech and telecom company with a pulse offers you streaming video to rent and buy. Sure, it blew your mind the first time Netflix delivered you a DVD and you could return it WHENEVER, but those little plastic discs are so outdated these days that even Netflix doesn’t want to sell them anymore.

But you’ve got to remember that the company’s DVD by mail model was the straw that broke the back of the rental industry dominated...

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Nov 20 12:01p

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell: 'Cable companies are at the mercy of content companies'

Michael Powell — yes, that’s Colin Powell’s son — has been a driving force for change in the telecom and TV industry for years. After serving as an FCC commissioner under President Clinton, he was appointed Chairman by President Bush in 2001, beginning an active and controversial four-year run. As Chairman, Powell pushed to leave the exploding broadband market free of legacy telephone regulations while still maintaining support for net neutrality and fining internet providers for blocking...

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Nov 16 4:52p

Cutting the cord UK-style: can the Brits succeed where the US has failed?

The idea of cord cutting — replacing your cable or satellite contracts with web services — remains an aspirational goal to many. In the US, thanks to services like Hulu Plus and Netflix, cord-cutting has never been easier, but without a cable subscription you’ll be unable to watch many programs on the day of broadcast, and accessing premium content from the likes of HBO is impossible. Over in the UK, however, things are starting to look a little brighter. The past five years has seen...

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Why TV news matters in the age of information overload

“And that’s the way it is.”

For two decades, whenever Walter Cronkite said those words to end his nightly CBS newscast, people believed him. Cronkite was the most trusted man in America, the person we tasked with telling us what was happening and how we should feel about it.

In 2012, there is no Walter Cronkite. If you believe writers like Clay Shirky, there never will be another Walter Cronkite. When endless information, infinite viewpoints, and myriad options are available, the...

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Connect the dots: Valve’s Big Picture could be a Linux game console

The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii are nearing their end. As powerful as they have been in the living room, gamers want more. They want better graphics, new user experiences, and more mobility, as much as those things can be at odds with one another. A new wave of game consoles is rising to meet some of those challenges, but perhaps not all: the Nintendo Wii U doesn’t seem to be that much more powerful than an Xbox 360, and the next Xbox and PlayStation are rumored to use what...

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Living with Roku and the rest: indie streaming boxes offer a lot of choice without many options

Titans like Apple, Microsoft, and Google have been grappling for ownership of the living room for years, but no matter how many new hobbies or revamped interfaces roll out, none of the major players have become the de facto standard for home entertainment just yet. As a result, numerous competitors have rushed in with their own take on the streaming media box. While companies like Roku and Boxee focus exclusively on entertainment solutions — with varying degrees of success — there are also...

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New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum: 'Social watching just sounds like wishful thinking'

Somewhere in the past two decades, TV evolved from a wasteland rotting our minds into the premier medium for truly groundbreaking comedy, drama, and storytelling. Series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Oz, and The Sopranos showed that TV could stand on its own against the creativity and vision of movies and novels. Now TV’s experiencing its own golden age with Louie, 30 Rock, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and dozens of other ambitious series competing for our attention. We’ve come a long way...

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Nov 15 4:13p

Vizio CTO Matt McRae: 'What's the difference between a tablet and a portable TV?'

Vizio has long been one of the bestselling TV brands in the US — the biggest brand in the country until April of this year when TV sales began to decline overall and Samsung took the lead spot.

Searching for ways to grow Vizio’s business and find new markets falls to CTO Matt McRae, who’s always been blunt in addressing challenges for the tech industry. McRae presided over Vizio’s entrance into the Android tablet market in 2011 and a line of Windows PCs earlier this year — moves that...

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Remote control: why is turning on the TV still so hard?

As Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Google, and many other players all battle for control of the boxes and the content ecosystems that sit next to your television, there's an equally important fight to sell you the device that sits next to your couch: the remote. The basic concept of a "universal remote control" may have reached critical mass years ago, but many companies have bigger plans for the gadget you actually use to interact with your entertainment system. Eventually, you may not even need...

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Living with Apple TV: you get what you pay for

I’ve always held a grudge against Apple devices, yet somehow I’ve come to own nothing else. My first smartphone was a Motorola Droid. I had it for two years. In that time, I probably spent a total of $10 on apps. I spent more than that on my first day with an iPhone.

My first connected TV device was an original Boxee Box. After that I added an Xbox 360. My latest purchase was an Apple TV, and I managed to spend more on films and TV in the first few months than I had in my two years with the...

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Japan's digital content struggles: the country of the future remains stuck in the past

As anyone who’s spent much time in Japan can tell you, rumors of a technological paradise have been greatly exaggerated. While the country may be a world leader in things like high-speed rail and mobile payments, a lack of public Wi-Fi and an over-reliance on fax machines persist. So it is with the transition to digital content, where — despite the country’s huge appetite for consumer electronics — Japan continues to lag much of the world in offering services for the living room and beyond.


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Internet television is where cable was in early days, says Conde Nast Entertainment chief

There’s already an endless amount of video entertainment available online, so it’s a bit weird to think that the era of internet television is just beginning. And yet it’s true – studios are still figuring out what to make, viewers are figuring out where to find it, and advertisers are calculating how much to pay for it.

The messy, developing world of online video entertainment reminds Dawn Ostroff of the stuff that was being made for cable television starting in the 1970s. Ostroff is the...

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Nov 14 4:41p

The beauty of Wii U: Nintendo knows how to go all in on a gimmick

Nintendo is very good at gimmicks. Virtual Boy and those stupid miniature GameCube discs aside, Nintendo’s track record on “it will never work” devices is astounding. It started with the DS, which even Nintendo was skeptical about — holding back its vaunted GameBoy name just in case the dual screen gimmick didn’t pan out. And then the Wii, with its absurd controller configurations — a “Wiimote,” a “nunchuck,” a “Wii Fit,” a “MotionPlus” add-on. Last time I checked, even the 3DS was doing...

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The trouble with TV apps: hardware experts can’t build great software

A high-end TV today isn’t much different from a Motorola RAZR back in 2005: excellent hardware mixed with abysmal software. "Smartphones" weren’t yet smartphones, and certainly today "Smart TVs," which flaunt apps and gesture-based navigation, aren’t even close to "smart." Adding apps doesn’t make a TV stop acting like a TV: a slow, sluggish box that’s pretty but dumb. So where do TV apps go from here?

Some refrigerators even have apps, I hear

TV makers today seem to make software largely...

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Living with Amazon: a glimpse of the future, but not a cable-killer yet

Twenty-two million. That’s how many books, movies, TV shows, songs, apps, and games that Amazon boasts are accessible through its Kindle Fire tablets and other devices. The massive internet retailer has made a very aggressive play to be as synonymous with your living room entertainment as it is with online shopping.

I’ve spent the past few weeks living in Amazon’s ecosystem, attempting to make it my sole source of entertainment in my living room and beyond. Unfortunately for Amazon, there...

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NBC's Vivian Schiller: social media has made live TV essential again

The war for the living room will ultimately be won not by gadget manufacturers, but by content companies — the people who make and distribute TV itself. But it’s a two-way street: the internet is changing how even the largest producers of television think about their products.

Vivian Schiller has been on the front lines of change for years. She was the first general manager of what has become the Investigation Discovery channel, then the senior vice president of NYTimes.com, and then the CEO...

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Why the future of live sports is in ESPN's hands

It's the most common retort to cord-cutters, the first word of caution to anyone looking to get rid of their cable subscription: live sports. You'll spend a lot of time in bars, I tell people, because without a cable subscription watching games becomes virtually impossible.

There's still a lot of truth to the statement — live sports are the least-supported thing most cable-cancellers might want — but there's a surprisingly large amount of content out there available without a cable...

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Living with the PS3: spotty software drags down Sony's killer HD library

Sony and the PlayStation brand have gotten a bit of a bad reputation in recent years. The PlayStation 3 was extremely expensive when it launched, the company infamously removed features from the console after the fact, and a massive hack job brought Sony’s online infrastructure to its knees and revealed consumers’ private info in the process. Most of these issues have been remedied, but Sony's damaged reputation has made the PlayStation brand a bit of a tough sell.

However, Sony's also done...

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Clear Channel CEO Bob Pittman: 'We better be the ones to cannibalize ourselves'

Bob Pittman’s parents always found it strange when he would crank up the volume on his AM radio to listen along to his favorite shows while doing his homework. "Some people have always been multi-taskers," says Pittman, with a smile, during an interview last week. "People talk about how we’re always checking our smartphones or tablets these days while we watch TV, but really, human behavior hasn’t changed. It’s just new gadgets giving it a different expression."

Pittman’s passion for radio...

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Nov 13 5:20p

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen: 'I'm not sure people want everything on demand'

Boxee CEO Avner Ronen has been trying to reinvent TV for years now — first by building software for hacked Xboxes and PCs, then with the funky Boxee Box media streamer, and now with his first mainstream product, the Boxee TV. With each iteration, Boxee’s gotten closer to the ultimate goal: making it simple and fun to watch TV. We spoke about the future of the industry — and the future of Boxee.

Putting a computer in the living room has been the holy grail in one form or another for three...

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Living with Google TV: jack of all trades, master of none

I've spent nearly a month using Google TV as the primary way of getting entertainment to the television in my living room. Not once during that time did the experience delight me, it often managed to get the job done, and all too often it frustrated me and stymied my efforts to just watch something. Eric Schmidt famously predicted that "By the summer of 2012, the majority of the televisions you see in stores will have Google TV embedded." Luckily for anybody who has ever held a remote...

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Living with the Xbox 360: how Microsoft's trojan horse took over your living room

It seems like every new week brings rumors and news of tech titans trying to capture the living room, the heart of the American household: Apple in talks with cable operators, Google building its own streaming media box, TV and movies overtaking games as the primary way people use their Xbox. It’s all part of an ongoing battle for the future of the television, which despite the rise of the internet and the explosion of mobile technology, still captures the lion’s share of our viewing hours....

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Who's afraid of a little live TV? Why streaming service Aereo scares the broadcast industry

There is an infamous attack ad from the 1970s that opens with a montage of a devil, a vampire, and Frankenstein's monster — and then shifts to a terrifying, anthropomorphized cable box. The angry cable box has red eyes and a wide row of shark-like teeth, which it gnashes as a paternal-sounding announcer warns viewers to stay away from cable: "Don’t let pay TV be the monster in your living room!

The broadcast television industry has fought — in court, in Congress, and in the media — to block...

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Nov 12 2:14p

Smart TVs keep dumbing down our living rooms

The living room's been something like a holy grail for electronics manufacturers for decades. It's the place where we spend hours every day sitting in front of our TVs, passively flipping channels and watching ads. Even as our smartphones and tablets vie for our attention, TV dominates: Americans still spend an average of 4 hours, 38 minutes a day watching the boob tube. Netflix, on the other hand, which is so popular as to command as much as half the US’s internet bandwidth, only commands 11...

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