For the smart TV to remain relevant in the growing strength of second screen devices, it must engender an applications development community that will provide as rich a selection of apps as is available on smartphones and tablets.
Is the smart TV still the next hit CE product? Is it still relevant? I believe that mobile holds the key to those questions.
But first, a little bit of the history: how smart TV began and where it has ended up.
Smart TV was officially launched at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, NV. Major TV manufacturers -- Samsung, LG, Sony, Toshiba, and Vizio -- announced their adoption of Yahoo Connected TV. The system consisted of a software application platform, inexpensive MIPS-based SoCs running embedded versions of the Linux OS, 256 MB of RAM -- it's now up to 500 MB and going to a gigabyte -- and under 1 GB of flash memory.
The platform shipped with an app store (initially called Widget Gallery) and a handful of pre-installed TV apps (called TV widgets back then) from Yahoo and several other popular Internet services.
This innovation marked the starting point for modern Internet connectivity in the living room, ushering in an explosion of consumer personalization that became substantial enough that it was awarded the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Engineering Plaque in 2011.
Today, worldwide smart TV is poised to grow 21.06% over the period 2013-2018, according to "The Global Smart TV Market 2014-2018" report from Technavio. The Elmhurst, IL USA- based market research firm, cites increased consumer spending and growing adoption of smart TVs in advertising as propelling this growth.
Jean-Pierre (JP) Abello, Director of Product Engineering at The Nielsen Company in Tampa, Florida was instrumental in creating the Yahoo Connected TV platform during his earlier employment at Yahoo.
Recently, Abello moderated the "Keynote panel: Exploring TV apps and 2nd Screen strategies" at Apps World North America 2014 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
In a recent interview on the substance of the panel, he said that 88% of viewers owning a smartphone or tablet are using it while viewing TV at least once a month. He explained that a growing category of mobile apps, called second-screen apps are designed to augment the TV viewing experience, even though they evolved separately from the Smart TVs themselves. Some of these second-screen apps can even recognize content playing on TVs using the device's microphone to detect audio fingerprints, and others can also control basic TV functions via IR-blasting when available.
These second-screen apps are now starting to give way to multiscreen apps.
Abello says, "Multiscreen apps can communicate directly with TV Apps on Connected TV, enabling content and data to move seamlessly between the small screen and the big screen, thus allowing each screen to be used for its best function."
This communication occurs via "a two-way protocol over either the home WiFi network (for proximity detection) or through the cloud." he says. "For example video started on a mobile device can be flinged to the big TV screen, or the TV may send data about the current on-screen programming to the mobile device or bring up the keyboard on the mobile device for text input on the TV."
Multiscreen apps are creating excitement among many stakeholders in the smart TV market. In his panel presentation, Abello cited DIAL -- an acronym for DIscovery And Launch, a protocol co-developed by Netflix and YouTube and supported by most Smart TV manufacturers such as Samsung and Sony -- and Automatic Content Recognition (ACR) as two recent developments contributing to this excitement.
DIAL enables the mobile viewer to use a second screen app to tell his/her TV to automatically launch a TV app on any smart TV to enable for example the streaming of a desired video directly on the big screen instead of his mobile screen. ACR, however, delivers the goods for the advertisers and content creators.
According to the Civolution whitepaper "Automated Content Recognition creating content aware ecosystems," ACR technology enables the second screen and smart TV to become "content-aware" and "know" what content is being watched. Thus, the second screen can then deliver complementary and fully synchronized content associated with the viewed program, film or advertisement.
According to the whitepaper, "the viewer's experience is automatically enhanced without the need for any manual interaction."
It explained, "The viewer can then use (the second screen) or the smart TV to access other applications and social networking tools (to share their experiences with friends, family and on-line communities) driving up viewing figures and dragging customers into branded virtual spaces."