Smart TV at CES: Delivering What Consumers Don't Want?

Manufacturers Continue Grafting Internet Capabilities Onto TV Sets

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Throughout the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, TV manufacturers have been touting their latest smart offerings' ability to conduct activities typically handled on smartphones, tablets or laptops, saying consumers can use TV sets to easily share and alter photographs, tweet about a show or shop.

Market experts disagree, saying manufacturers' moves to co-opt mobile device activity are out of sync with consumer behavior. Many add little value, they say, and will prove an ill-fated attempt to redirect attention back to the "first screen."

"People don't want to tweet on their TVs," said Joe Inzerillo, senior VP-multimedia at Major League Baseball. "I would argue based upon the growth of tablets, and the utilization of tablets more importantly, people have already demonstrated that they don't necessarily want that ."

MLB's mobile-app traffic is at its highest during games, Mr. Inzerillo said, because viewers use their mobile devices to access contextual data such as statistics and league news while watching. Bringing that functionality to TVs is not a meaningful addition to the viewing experience, he suggested. That may go double for TV content that 's not quite so predicated on stats and the latest standings.

"People connect [TVs and tablets] in a way that they aren't really connected," Mr. Inzerillo added. "Sixty percent of prime-time viewers have a tablet, but they're not doing what's on TV," he said.

Bringing mobile-device functionality to TV is a way for TV manufacturers to market themselves as relevant in an increasingly mobile world. The adoption rate for smartphones has been higher than for any other consumer tech product, and video consumption on them has grown dramatically in recent years.

But there's no evidence this has affected the amount of time consumers watch TV. The average amount of time that consumers watch TV has remained essentially flat. Consumers are watching more video than ever, but TV sets have not lost their relevance. And it's not clear that viewers want their wall-mounted TVs to do the same things their handheld devices do.

"People don't have that kind of interactive relationship with their TV," said Greg Stuart, global CEO of the Mobile Marketing Association, an industry trade group. "The TV on the wall is a family device. It's a multi-user device. If I want to share something, its going to be with a personal device, and that 's going to be my tablet or my mobile."

Some TV properties such as HSN believe they can benefit from internet-enabled features. HSN announced a partnership with Panasonic this week that will make HSN's entire inventory, more than 40,000 products, available on Panasonic TVs via a shopping app. The company is confident the program will be successful because of the popularity of the "shop by remote" offering the company rolled out in 2006.

"Our customer is device agnostic," HSN CEO Mindy Grossman said in an interview. "What we want is to create as many opportunities for engagement and interaction as we can and let them customize it on their own terms."

But HSN's success has always been predicated upon viewers using their TV as a shopping platform. More traditional viewing is not so interactive.

According to Mr. Stuart, bringing mobile-like capabilities to TV sets is counter-productive. "We're not taking mobile and putting it into TV, but we're taking TV and putting into a mobile. That's the trend line," he said.

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