Over the past decade, the internet has rendered printed newspapers, photo albums and CDs useful as little more than coffee mug coasters. All the while, the television has remained a staple of our daily lives. The average American still loafs on their couches for three hours a day gazing into the tube. We listen to music on iTunes, read news on our Kindles and store our photos on Facebook. But the vast majority of Americans still watch television shows on TV through a cable or satellite provider. This is about to change.
Here are some of the players that are challenging the television status quo:
- Apple TV -- This week Apple announced a $99 version of its Apple TV offering. The product comes with easy iTunes integration to buy or rent thousands of movies and TV shows (which are now going for just $0.99). It also offers integration with Netflix, YouTube and Flickr. Apple TV does not integrate directly with current cable and satellite streams. Instead, it allows users to browse the media movies, shows, clips and pictures from all of its partners in stand alone apps.
- Google TV -- Google has partnered with Sony to produce a line of TV's with Google TV pre-installed. The company is also working with Intel and Logitech to produce boxes similar to Apple's. Unlike Apple TV, Google integrates directly with the user's current cable or satellite offering, enabling quick searching of TV channels and programs. Google TV also offers a web browser so users can check their email while keeping an eye on the game. Additionally, the browser capabilities enable users to watch clips on YouTube or full shows on sites like Hulu.
- Amazon TV -- Amazon's offering is still in the works. But the service will likely start as a competitor to Netflix and iTunes, offering movies and TV shows on demand. Amazon will not compete with Apple and Google with hardware based offerings, and is likely to partner with Google to distribute their software on all Google TV products.
- Roku Box -- One of the first players to disrupt the TV market, Roku offers a line of boxes for as low as $59.99. This hardware was the first to stream Netflix directly on a user's TV. These days Roku is in direct competition with Apple. The company is offering both Netflix and Amazon's TV service in addition to music services from the popular streaming site Pandora.
- Boxee -- Another of the early disrupters, Boxee does not currently offer a box. Instead the company offers a software based system that can be installed on Apple TV or any computer. The computer is then connected to a TV monitor where Boxee's software enables the streaming of any content downloaded from the internet. Using the service, a user can stream Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, LastFM or Pandora directly from their computer to their TV using Boxee's software. The company has plans to release the Boxee Box in November, but with a $199 price tag it's going to be a hard sell against Apple TV and the Roku Box.
Which of these competitors will rule the television frontier isn't yet clear. But one thing is for certain -- a decade from now, watching TV will be a totally different experience. TV will become more interactive, with the possibility of Twitter-like conversations and comments integrated into the programming. Product placement will become commonplace. With an internet connection viewers will be able to click on a particular actor's shirt and find a list of online retailers to buy the shirt from. But the real question is whether this will put an end to my nightmares with Comcast customer service once and for all. The answer: unfortunately not. With the need to consume live sports and local news, cable and satellite operators have a lock on at least some of our viewing habits for the foreseeable future.
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