Looking for the catalyst for a true revolution in home entertainment? There is no shortage of possibilities: high-definition TV, TiVO, BitTorrent, video on demand, smart set-top boxes and more.
Vince Broady is senior VP of games and entertainment for CNET.
Looking for the catalyst for a true revolution in home entertainment?
There is no shortage of possibilities: high-definition TV, TiVO, BitTorrent, video on demand, smart set-top boxes and more.
All are perfectly reasonable suggestions, but small potatoes compared with the real answer, which is a state, not a technology.
To be precise, the catalyst for radical change in entertainment is the state of being connected to the Internet while consuming media that is aware of that connection. In other words, it is the "connected consumer."
The first steps into this brave new world are about to take place -- where else? -- in videogames.
Imagine this not-so-distant scenario: Someone is playing a basketball game, and in the background a major-label song is playing. This actually happens now in EA Sports games, with the name of the song and artist displayed onscreen.
Today, that is where it ends. But in our connected world, things will be different. The player will be able to press the "pause" button on his game, select the song name, then instantly watch the music video. From there, he will be able to click again to get more information about the artist, including recent appearances. Another click of a button, and he can select a recent televised performance, then watch and record it -- probably for a small fee.
This type of experience changes entertainment from an end unto itself to a vehicle for selecting from an almost infinite variety of paths. A movie, TV show or game is no longer just a destination, it is also a gateway. It is a starting point, not an end point.
Let us examine the notion of being a connected consumer with an unexpected comparison -- the workplace. Some of you remember a time when you had a computer, a printer and a phone in your office, but no connection to the Internet. You wrote your documents, printed them out, maybe checked your voice mail and went on to the next document. And that was pretty much that.
Then your persistent connection to the Internet came along, and eventually so did software that took advantage of that connection. Suddenly, you were no longer focused solely on your work, because at any moment a voice might chime in, "You've got mail." Then came the endless stream of meeting reminders, sign-on/sign-off messages and instant messaging. Whatever your level of focus on the task at hand, you are now constantly aware of the greater world of messages, alerts and buddies that surrounds you.
Think of your current cable box, HD TV and DVD player as the equivalent of that old office setup. You watch your movie or TV show then go about your business. This is all going to change when your entertainment system has a persistent connection to the Internet and you are consuming media that is aware of that connection and able to take advantage of it
In the near future, this type of experience will occur when you are watching TV or playing games. Microsoft has taken a step in this direction with its Xbox Live service, which can notify you while you are playing that your favorite show is about to come on, for example.
Videogames will lead the way in this new era because: 1) they are the first form of entertainment to be widely consumed while maintaining a persistent connection to the Internet (as is required by almost all forms of multiplayer gaming), and 2) among all media types, videogames are the most "lean forward." Gamers expect to be able to control their experience, taking it in whichever direction they choose.
Finally, among all media types, videogame consumers and creators have the most symbiotic relationship. Game creators invent new paradigms for consumers who are willing to try out these innovations and give the best ones a huge financial payback.
Videogamers will get there first, but the rest of us are sure to follow. Once we do, there will be no turning back. (Do you not believe me? Try unplugging your Internet connection at work and see how long you can last!)
In the meantime, anyone involved in creating or delivering entertainment media should keep the connected consumer in mind at all times, particularly for product development. Start thinking about building intelligence and the potential for interaction into your shows, movies and music so that when consumers plug in, you will be ready and waiting.