The iTV Doctor Goes Back to the Future (Again)

Dear Readers:  

We're going to have a little fun today, going Back To The Future (Again). Three years ago we published a column that many friends contributed to. The set-up was this: "Dateline: December 22, 2012--Well, we got past the Mayan 'end-of-the-world' prophecy and the world didn't end. In point of fact, our little corner of the world--interactive television--is doing quite nicely, thank you. We have dozens of enhanced/interactive television programs airing every night in over 60 million homes; advertisers have stepped up, and are now paying a healthy premium for interactive spots; and viewers now EXPECT interactivity in their favorite shows--it's just part of the experience. What was the single most significant factor that led to this success?"

Enhanced television in over 60 million homes? I guess we can chalk that up to "youthful enthusiasm" (after all, I was THREE WHOLE YEARS YOUNGER than I am now...).

Now that the anticipated end of the world is upon us, I thought we'd re-visit some of those Fearless Forecasts. Three (truly) brave souls agreed to contribute to this latest effort: Aslam Khader (Ensequence), Juli Black (Something Good Media) and Ellen Dudar (FourthWall Media). And be sure to read to the end, because Ellen Dudar made a forecast that was absolutely prescient!

Here are some excerpts from what Aslam Khader wrote three years ago: "It's 2012 and we are all doing fine, thank you very much. We have again, as a human race, predicted the end of the world incorrectly...Our insatiable hunger for more and better entertainment is evident in the proliferation of content, distribution, and devices that entertain us.

"The CE companies have continued with innovation and given us incredibly powerful and functional devices that resemble art, fit to hang on the wall whether powered on or off. 3D is becoming mainstream without ridiculous-looking goggles.

"And finally the long-awaited, much-slammed age of interactive TV is upon us--but sadly does not seem momentous and some may even describe it as passe. That's because IP (Internet Protocol) and the Internet changed us. We now expect entertainment to be unbundled, open, on-demand, everywhere, seamless, enhanced, remote-controlled and FREE. It's happening for the most part, except for the free part. TV is new again."

And in 2012, Aslam reviewed his comments: "If you are reading this, then I was right in one of my projections--the world did not end. Hah! As for the other projections, I must say Kool-Aid and optimistic hope prevailed over reason and experience. 3D died and is slowly disappearing as a revolutionary change. OTT delivered a-la-carte content is making slow progress amongst steady and sometimes unruly headwinds. Enhanced experiences on single-screen continue to crawl up the cliff edge, even though the few that we released had great success. And the iPad added a twist that the industry is trying to figure out how to use to their advantage. Was I ahead of my time--as analysts generally justify their predictions :-)--or just plain wrong? You be the judge. But before I write next year's predictions I need to complete the horoscope writing course I just enrolled in."

Juli Black wrote in 2009: "In 2009, I owned a multitude of consumer electronics devices: a BlackBerry, an iPhone, an iPod, a Nano, a Kindle, multiple TiVo's, HDTV's connected to AT&T U-Verse and three laptops with a portable wireless card. These devices all had a few things in common; not least of which was instant connection to a broad range of content I could search, select, purchase and store. My TV's had hard drives and the Internet, but outside of my home--and a few million other homes--these two game-changing components were not connected to the television. And, the least sophisticated, least interactive device in the majority of homes was the TV.

"As early as the late 90's, consumers began signaling a preference for smart, interactive and programmable devices that recognized their preferences and allowed for viewing content on their time. Interactive devices like the iPod/iPhone, the Slingbox, readers, DVR's, smartphones, notebooks and netbooks evolved and enjoyed quick success. In parallel to the introduction and success of these devices, hard drives and Internet connectivity were added to the television, and this changed television forever. Once labeled a disruption, the combination of a hard drive plus Internet connectivity became the backbone of TV as we know it in 2012.

"As TV untangled its entanglements (what is known as our day jobs), customers like me were proactive and receptive to these new devices, and we sought and bought an array of gadgetry. Most importantly, these devices offered new, smart, convenient features that traditional TV simply did not offer. Standard features that were popular on these devices included the ability to purchase and download games, music, movies and TV programs. In addition, access to app stores allowed customers to search, select purchase, store and enjoy many applications that connected them to social networking sites, entertainment, news and many other categories. Access to these cutting-edge features was birthed by these devices and organically grew out of a combination of consumer demand and empowerment and technology advancements. These features proved popular and lucrative, as demonstrated by Apple downloading its billionth application in April of 2009.

"Improvements to software layered onto the hard drive, combined with Internet connectivity, catapulted TV to the next level. The smart, already-popular consumer features that consumers loved all became available in the majority of homes on the once-passive TV device. In 60 million homes, TV is now seen as a smart, intuitive, interactive device that is a programmable tool that works for the viewer to get them the things they want and offers them things they might like, based on sophisticated advancements."

In 2012, Juli addressed her earlier forecasts: "As I look back at the predictions I made in 2009 regarding our present day, 2012, I am reminded of a quote by Nils Bohr, Nobel laureate in physics: 'Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.'

"My devices have changed in a short period of time. Our household made a conscious decision to go all Apple in 2010. I have ditched the BlackBerry and use only my iPhone. Also missing are the iPod and Nano (both absorbed by the iPhone). The Kindle is gone, replaced by an iPad. Gone also are the three laptops, replaced by a MacBook Air. I no longer have a wireless card but I do carry a mobile hotspot to ease connectivity during travel. I rely on my DVR more than ever and watch a much higher percentage of appointment television--probably 98%.

"Additions to my arsenal of gadgets I can not live without today include satellite radio, Gogo Inflight Internet, my Nike+ FuelBand, my Control4 Smart Home Automation and my ADT Pulse home alarm system.

"I have many apps that I use on a regular basis. I rarely if ever get news from television or from an actual magazine or newspaper. News comes to me via apps, and I get alerts for breaking news no matter where I am. With apps on my iPhone, I turn my lights on and off in my home, control my home thermostat, control all my TV's and home sound system, as well as monitor my home's safety features.

"Mobile is currently dominating the ITV race. Unfortunately, my Samsung Smart TV's, connected to content via AT&T U-verse, remain the least improved devices in my portfolio of devices. Although I do find it useful to program my DVR remotely and occasionally will stream a Netflix movie. I can go days without turning on my TV's but can't go an hour without my iPhone.

"I will leave you with some words from Voltaire: 'It is said that the present is pregnant with the future.'"

In 2009, Ellen Dudar wrote in part: "As predicted by millions of American television viewers, the world did not end yesterday. Television viewers not only fueled the economic recovery through shared dialogue leading to increased consumer confidence, they assuaged fears that the end of the Mayan calendar foretold doom versus the need for an additional tablet.

"As advertisers saw spikes in TV advertising measurement for retail and auto with normal demand for survival supplies, they became true believers in the new media watercooler effect. The one-on-one conversations fostered between consumers, advertisers, and programmers herald in one of the best holiday seasons this country has seen in years. While the polls show a few outliers remain, reminding us of the end of the Linux epoch in 2038 and January 1,10,000, the first five-digit year, the vast majority of Americans are confident that the future is bright.


"Some give credit to the ubiquitous EBIF CableLabs specification for saving the world, while others attribute our success and security to the connections and conversations made possible through this breakthrough cable technology on the most popular consumer electronics device--the beloved television.

"Either way, this season is very merry."

On December 10th, 2012 Ellen Dudar wrote: "Three years ago, I was asked to predict the state of interactive television in December 2012, assuming the world would not end. I focused the discussion on television measurement data and tablet shortages. I imagined a world where TV measurement and engagement data could be used to answer questions like, 'Do you think the Mayans were predicting the end of the world, or do you think they simply ran out of tablets to continue the next Long Count cycle?' I imagined the television polling data showing 'tablet shortage' as the overwhelming response.  
"Four months after I made the prediction, Apple released the iPad. At first, people struggled to determine where the tablet would fit in the continuum of personal devices from laptop and e-reader, to smartphone. Over time, however, the tablet snuggled in as a media discovery and consumption device--perfect for functional, yet laidback engagement. A true companion made even more powerful when paired with television content and set-top boxes, ushering in the modern-day tablet shortage.



Tablet shortage then and now.

"Fast-forward to 2012. The tablet has become the go-to platform for interactive TV applications, while cross-platform measurement, including second-by-second set-top box data, has become the necessary fuel for predictive analytics that answer questions about how best to reach, engage and delight an audience.

"FourthWall Media collects data from millions of set-top boxes aggregated across numerous operators in 82 market areas, and growing. FourthWall's publishing division, MassiveData, processes this information to produce actionable insights and analytics for various television stakeholders including the Obama Re-Election Committee, who used our data in key battleground states and bought 14% more efficiently in their efforts to reach persuadable voter segments.

"Television can use MassiveData insights to successfully navigate the changing media landscape, leverage the power of the latest companion devices, and prevent the demise predicted by many. If only the Mayans had had set-top box data, maybe they would have seen their own demise coming and done something about it."


The iTV Doctor is Rick Howe, who provides interactive video consulting services to programmers, advertisers and technology providers. He is the recipient of a CTAM Tami Award for retention marketing and this year was inducted into The Cable Pioneers. He is also the co-author of a patent for the use of multiscreen mosaics in EPG's. Endorsed by top cable and satellite distributors, "Dr" Howe still makes house calls, and the first visit is always free. His services include product development, distribution strategy and the development of low-cost interactive applications for rapid deployment across all platforms.

Have a question for the iTV Doctor? Email him at

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