August 21, 2008

Behold the coming Cinematic Internet

JD LasicaAt the Intel Developer Forum Wednesday I was pulled aside and invited to interview Eric B. Kim, an Intel senior vice president and general manager of its Digital Home Group. Earlier in the day I heard Kim give a keynote talk with Patrick Barry, vice presdent of TV for Yahoo!

Kim talks about this significant new development in the 11-minute interview (above).

Watch it on Ourmedia (QuickTime)

Watch it on Vimeo (Flash)

Intel is one of the few technology companies with the leverage to pull the major media companies (Disney, ABC, Blockbuster, CBS Interactive, Cinequest, CinemaNow, many others) and advertising agencies into this new two-way arena. (See the press release.)

Here’s what I think about all this (and I’m most decidedly not speaking for Intel in any way here.)

Kim’s quote that most stuck out for me was this: “We’re bringing television to the internet.” Notice what Kim didn’t say: We’re bringing the Internet to television, which has been the approach of the big movie studios until now. (Or, until recently, We’re preventing the Internet from coming to TV.) I don’t know whether Kim’s turn of phrase was intentional or not — I suspect so — but the difference is a significant one.

Television is now becoming a part of the Internet universe. Not the opposite. The Internet is not a subset of an entertainment medium.

The Cinematic Internet

Yahoo’s Barry gave a fascinating presentation about what he variously called “connected television” and “the cinematic Internet.” While my colleagues in the user-created media space often scoff at the notion that people will want professionally made video in the age of YouTube and other video sharing sites, I think there’s no question that people will want to watch amateur content on their TVs and portable devices, but they will chiefly want to watch high-quality video on their plasma and high-definition televisions.

Barry spoke about “enabling the cinematic Internet, merging television and the Internet in a way users will love.” He said, correctly, that over the past 25 years “interactive television” hasn’t achieved what it should have achieved. It’s been, frankly, a novelty (a kind word meaning: a bust). And it has failed, in my view, because it has been in the hands of marketers and business functionaries with no grasp of what serves the needs of viewers. (“Want to buy the dress Jennifer Aniston is wearing?” Please.)

Barry smartly identified the chief television values we’ve seen over the past 50 years:

  • ease of use
  • reliability
  • high fidelity (professional quality)
  • entertainment

He then laid out the contrasting Internet values we’ve come to cherish — and now are coming to expect in our consumer electronics devices (thank you, iPhone, Archos and other trend-setters):

  • personalization
  • community
  • relevance
  • openness

Said Barry: “The ethic of the Internet, we think, is critical to bring to the television experience. Openness is a fundamental value of the Internet that’s been completely absent from the television experience.”

Well said.

A Powerpoint slide drove home this point. Consumer electronics has evolved this way

  • 1.0 analog tv
  • 2.0 digital TV
  • 3.0 Internet connected

“The Internet changes the game.”


Barry described the the “widget channel framework” in a way that emphasized its openness:

  • openness is a huge driver of growth and innovation
  • free and fair access for developers
  • creates user choice

Open access

The fight is not yet over. We still won’t be able to program our own Web shows on these devices for a few years (at least I’m skeptical), despite Intel and Yahoo’s embrace of an open media standard. Comcast is not yet ready to give up control over the content coming into our living rooms. But we will prevail, and fairly soon. Openness is a prime directive of the Internet, and the studios will be able to hold back the tide for only so long. Now the challenge is to get more high-quality content produced for the Web.

This development was, in the end, inevitable. But it wasn’t always obvious that the Internet would win. Following is some context of how far we’ve come over the past three years.

The media powers’ grip on control loosens

In my 2005 book Darknet, I interviewed Warren Lieberfarb, the man responsible for the DVD. The chapter is temporarily unavailable on the Internet Archive (update: It’s back online here: Hollywood’s visionary outcast), but I think some key excerpts deserve republication here:

Hollywood looks at interactive media as an opportunity to shop or upsell merchandise, but the studios get nervous about true interactivity because they lose control over the entertainment experience.

Warren Lieberfarb, the visionary former head of Warner Home Video, thinks it won’t be long before we’ll be able to purchase and store our  own personal collection of movies and transport it from device to device, anywhere within an extended home domain.

“I see a very, very, very big transformation that’s going to change the balance of power in media,” he says, choosing his words with care. “It will step away from the broadcast and cable networks to specialized niche programming that will be accessible through on-demand services. That is the revolution. And nothing is going to stop this.” …

“All this is going to bypass the broadcast and cable networks,” he says. “The whole notion that you sit at a television at a designated time and you tune in to watch what they say you watch—it’s over. It’s going to take a while, but it’s over.”

Just as the Internet and the proliferation of low-cost digital tools have reshaped other media, so the new technologies will transform our notion of television. A few years from now, when you say “television,” it may no longer be synonymous with the box in your living room because you also will be watching it on your handheld mobile device or tablet PC. “What’s on TV” may no longer be synonymous with network and cable programming because you’ll be able to access video feeds from a wide range of new content providers. When you do watch television in your living room, you’ll still wield a remote control, but you may be watching it on a stand-alone digital box or one that’s hooked up to a media-center device or wirelessly connected to a PC, giving you the power to pull niche material from a gushing fire hose of sources.

“People are going to discover that content doesn’t have to be produced by the major media companies,” Lieberfarb says. …

Lieberfarb is not saying the old order of Big Media programming will be overthrown by a cabal of camcorder-wielding Young Turks. But he is saying that the major media companies will no longer exercise exclusive control over what Americans watch on TV.

“There is this attitude in the media industry that we’re the ones that make the big-time media that people want. Yet it’s always been dark horses that the establishment didn’t see that have created the changes in the media landscape. HBO was a dark horse. CNN was a dark horse. ESPN was a dark horse. So were VCRs. And the technophobia in the media industry, the resistance to changing business models, the gut instinct to use their monopoly power to extract financial benefits—all this will not serve the media companies well in the coming era.” …

Formidable business interests will oppose a mass rollout of easily accessible on-demand media for the public because it threatens their existing business models, Lieberfarb says. In the years ahead, vertically integrated media companies will use their marketplace dominance and their clout in Congress, the regulatory agencies, and the courts in an effort to maintain their role as exclusive intermediaries, as gatekeepers of information and entertainment.

“That’s why I think audiovisual media, available online on demand, will take place from the edge”—here he holds his hands wide apart—”and not from the center of the media industry. Change is not going to come from the media conglomerates that have too much at stake in protecting the status quo.” …

How to put television’s pieces back together? We need to arrive at a new place of user participation and interaction. The tools are at hand: a converged cable TV and Internet gateway that lets subscribers pay a small monthly fee (80 percent of Americans already pay for cable TV or satellite) in return for a high-speed freeway ramp connecting us to hundreds of niche video channels created by entrepreneurs, amateurs, and independent professionals.

Will the companies controlling the pipes into our houses also control what comes through it? Will they continue to be our visual gatekeepers? “No,” Lieberfarb says firmly. “People will be able to access any Web sites delivering movies and video.”

We are not there yet, but we are getting tantalizingly close.

In Darknet, I also wrote about the Intel vice president who broke federal law (and why the law is broken).

I wrote about Hollywood’s efforts to lock down digital televisions with weapons such as “certification” and “renewability”—new forms of copy control that are about to enter the living room by stealth.

An important chapter looked at how the tech and consumer electronics industries gotten too cozy with Hollywood, a dalliance that this new development signals may be coming to an end.

And a hat tip to Intel — because it’s important for people to know who their allies are. Wrote this in Darknet four summers ago:

On the major public policy issues of the digital age, the high-tech industry has splintered into different factions. Some hardware makers such as Intel, for instance, oppose the law that makes picking digital locks a federal crime regardless of the circumstances. Intel also filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Eric Eldred and fought gallantly in late 2004 against the anti-innovation INDUCE Act. And it hosted a Digital Rights Summit to shine a spotlight on the threats posed to innovation.

In just three years, we’ve come a long way. But still have miles to go.

What I like about broadband-enabled television is that this is no longer a marketing concept. It’s real technology — and it works.

The point I think a lot of commentators have missed about Intel’s
efforts in this area is this: personalized television will give us a
large degree of control over our media experience — something that was
decidedly missing in past experiments with “interactive TV.” You want
to view your content (not NBC’s or CNN’s) on your TV set? Go right

We’ve been able to do that — to some degree — by jumping through a
number of technological hoops that most people won’t bother with.
Cinematic television has the potential to change the game in a way that
other broadband television solutions (like Apple TV) simply don’t.

Don’t pay much attention to the marketing jargon: cinematic television
is a misnomer — there’s nothing cinematic about your Flickr photos,
Twitter feed or favorite sports teams — but it is an important step
forward into the era of Internet television. (This is not your father’s Web TV.)

Related coverage:

USA Today: Intel, Yahoo partner on Internet-TV widget project.

Yahoo blog: The Cinematic Internet is coming to a living room near you.

How much more would you love your TV if you could monitor your eBay auctions, keep tabs on the 5-day weather forecast, and check the score of the Giants game — all at the same time you are watching the new season of “ER”?

Yahoo Connected TV: Introducing the Cinematic Internet.

In a skeptical post, Matt Griswold has this: Yahoo and Intel Unveil “Cinematic Internet.”

Bonus: We got a chance to preview some coolio gadgets powered by Intel chips: MIDs (a bit bigger than PDAs) and Netbooks (these are Internet-enabled handheld devices a bit smaller than notebooks) like the Medion by Akoya, the Eee PC, the Acer and the Sharp Willcom. Most of these will first roll out in Europe.

Also, here are some photos I snapped with my cell phone of the doings at the Developer Forum.

Disclosure: I’m a member of the recently formed Intel Insiders consulting group.
JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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One thought on “Behold the coming Cinematic Internet

  1. JD — Great seeing your at IDF and thanks for sharing your ideas for doing more with the Intel Insiders. This post is an very interesting look back and ahead at digital entertainment. Prior to joining Intel in 2000, I worked at KRON-TV, where I thought the station was on the Internet cutting edge along with its then parent company Chronicle Publishing — in 1990 when was born. At Intel, I got a different perspective, one that showed people were getting more empowered with new technologies. I think new technologies are often behind what I call “the brat generation,” where we want things now, where ever we are and the way we want it. We’re certainly closer to getting things “our way” and it’s interesting to see tech, entertainment, legal, other industries trying to collaborate (or not) as new capabilities through the Internet become “the norm.”

    Thanks for sharing insights you’ve gathered through experience!