By Nick Patience Last December we reported on a gathering of the top twenty web masters for a spot of snowboarding and chat about what makes their world tick (CI No 3,065). The self-styled webmonsters reckoned web over the television had a real chance of success and were looking to adapt their technology to target […]
By Nick Patience
Last December we reported on a gathering of the top twenty web masters for a spot of snowboarding and chat about what makes their world tick (CI No 3,065). The self-styled webmonsters reckoned web over the television had a real chance of success and were looking to adapt their technology to target those armchair bound web surfers and get them to return to the sites over and over again – in other words, the consumer mass market. It may just be happening, if the message coming out of Jupiter Communications’ Consumer Online Services show in New York last week is to be believed. Speaking at the show, WebTV CEO Steve Perlman said that 65% of its users log on every day and there are on average 2.5 people using each set at any one time, according to the company’s own customer survey. And some users operate in a pilot/navigator set-up: one with the remote control and the other with the keyboard. In other words, it’s a social thing, just like the TV, and not like a PC.
Next to useless
WebTV, you will recall is both a service and content provider, as well as the designer and licenser of the WebTV reference design – Sony and Philips are the current two licensees, with boxes in stores for the past five months. Jupiter reckons there will be some 5.2 million households with net-TVs by 2000, rising to 12.7 million, or 22% of the consumer online market two years later. The shift away from the PC as a way of delivering the net into homes raises the question of where best to position the TV boxes in stores. Farid Dibachi, chairman of Diba Inc, another company with a reference design to flog, this time for small consumer boxes to deliver information on anything from travel to recipes, reckoned WebTV was a good idea, but would be better sold through licensing agreements with service providers – ISPs RBOCs and the like – because the average sales guy in a store is next to useless. Philip Monego, president and CEO of NetChannel Inc – the television-based content provider – disagreed that service providers were the way to sell the boxes. He said it had to be retail. WebTV, of course doesn’t mind how they’re sold as long as they do. NetChannel is Oracle’s Network Computer Inc (NCI) teacher on all things consumer content.
The secretive company is readying personalized channels for web- enabled televisions and network computers, the idea being that the web becomes just another channel on your TV, with NetChannel as the service provider. Monego was off to Europe last week to spread the word there. He reckons the personalization of the web/TV experience will be the epiphany that marks the explosion of the home consumer web market, at least he hopes it will. Spyglass Inc is hurriedly trying to find new revenue stream to replace Microsoft, which recently decided it didn’t want to license the technology behind Internet Explorer anymore, it wanted to own it, paying Spyglass a paltry $8m for the rest of its contract. The company is targeting the embedded market, including TV set-top boxes and TVs themselves to accomplish this. Spyglass reckons all – repeat, all – TVs will be internet – enabled sometime next year. NetChannel’s Monego, free of the constraints of worrying about a share price for now, reckons that timeframe is unrealistic. In that way Spyglass is up against PlanetWeb, a small software company headed by Kamran Elahian, founder of Cirrus Logic Inc among others, that has a browser targeted at set-top box manufacturers. Elahian said PlanetWeb’s browser fits in just 400Kb, and is also targeting set-top and console manufacturers – its browser is currently in Sega boxes. Elahian also said an unnamed Japanese TV manufacturer would be ready with a net-enabled TV in time for the Winter Olympics next February in Japan, using PlanetWeb’s stuff, of course.
Further evidence of consumers catching on came from WebTV. Perlman said 65% of its users do not own a PC, and the most visited website through its gateway is currently Eonline.com, the websit
e of the E! entertainment channel, with would you believe, barbie.com close up behind – clearly these users are in leisure- mode. Eonline apparently told WebTV that, from non-existence last October, the WebTV domain was the fourth highest hitter of its site in January out of the 500 recorded. As Bob Pittman, president and CEO of America Online Network Inc – its main operating unit – and creator of MTV Networks observed, with TV sales actually falling last year for the first time, PCs and online services are cutting into the home market. And once it reaches mass market appeal, only the big players will make it, until such time that the market is big enough to support niche players again, as happened with the emergence of cable in the early 1980s. From this Christmas the world wide web will be coming to a TV near year – about 10 feet away in fact.