What would the Internet look like today if history had been just slightly different?
Say for example the Internet’s open, royalty-free foundation — protocols, HTML, etc. — hadn’t mostly won out?
Leaving only proprietary solutions or shifting interest groups (and their designates) maneuvering to disadvantage, overcharge, or end-run each other as the only — and underwhelming — drivers of deployment?
Unimaginable? Improbable? Hardly. Welcome to daily life in the chronically-stunted US Interactive TV near-industry, little known outside its own community, which bared its soul this week at the superbly-run TV of Tomorrow Conference.
Don’t get me wrong, the US interactive TV “ecosystem” — a term that when used at the event sparked discussions of sharks and survival — is as vibrant, passion-filled, and technically gifted as any you’ll find.
And ground-zero relevant, sitting squarely at the multi-industry techno-policy nexus of broadcasting, cable, broadband & wireless. Multiplatform TV and “over the top” TV — Internet video to the TV without a gatekeeping operator or PC — are yet more cutting edges that the event considered in light of the US interactive TV experience. But missed boats, like the millions of subsidized US DTV converter boxes which because of overpriced and/or controlled ITV specifications lack interactivity to speak of, merited no discussion.
But as one of the several impressive award winners evoked — the very idea of Interactive TV in the US can seem like a toxic relationship that keeps dysfunctionally drawing back an incredible amalgam of talent.
It may be tempting to write the whole movement off as some cautionary tale of the perils of convergence, a “Tragedy of the Anti-commons“, or a Darwinian techno-niche.
But can America really afford another underperforming, gridlocked opportunity, stalled in the starting gate? Can’t this gifted, visionary community offer more?
The simple, compelling answer is “go open”. Embrace a royalty-free, truly open approach. All of the controlled and/or royalty-bearing specifications are available royalty free, an open video movement is gaining steam, and TV patent-pool lock-ups are under assault. Even the long industry-captured US FCC may be willing to hear new ideas.
Admittedly, the thought of “going open” at the event seemed beyond the collective imagination of the US interactive ecosystem. The topic was skirted and slammed in a fiesty roundtable at the end of one day on the break-out potential of over-the-top video.
The reasons against going open are easy to list. Too late/slow/hard. Too risky. The powers that be would never allow it, and would crush any dare to try. “Someone” (usually the proprietary set top I’ve developed or hope to get venture-funded) will provide the industry-opening breakout. I’ve got, or will get, my crumb, so don’t rock the boat. I’ll get my own clever path to the TV, and everyone will get on board. Standards take too long.
Each true in the small, tragic in the large.
ITV-ers unite: demand a real, and really open, industry!