A recent article in The New York Times explaining a new free long-distance phone service from Pudding Media foreshadows the future of television, and in particular, what TVs of the future will be doing when we're not watching them. (See Company Will Monitor Phone Calls to Tailor Ads.)
While TV/Internet pundits have been predicting "convergence" for more than a decade -- even WebTV is eleven years old at this point -- this article makes clear what everyone has been missing in the convergence discussion.
Convergence is not about what people will watch. It's about what will be on the screen when they're not watching.
While so much attention has been focused on creating rich, interactive TV experiences that meld together traditional TV viewing with Internet-style activities, and many people have been asking how to merge the "lean back" experience with "lean forward," this misses the forest for the trees.
The question is not "what kind of programs will people want to engage with?" in the new converged environment.
The real question is: What will be on their big screens when people are not watching a program?
Whatever else you're doing -- whether talking on the phone, corresponding with email, surfing the web using a smaller PC screen, cooking dinner, reading the newspaper -- if the big screen is on, it will have an advertising message to match your moment-by-moment interests.
Listening in on phone calls and snooping in on email for the sake of advertising is already happening. TV is a huge billboard, it's instantly updateable, and it's in everyone's living room. This is how convergence will play out. There's money in it.