What will it be like to watch television in 2030?
Futurist Thomas Frey: Having just returned from four days at the famous Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I am spending the next couple weeks sorting through the vast array of products I came across, looking for overarching trends and patterns that may signal lifestyle shifts in the future.
Wandering through the exhibits, it is hard not to be impressed with the elaborate video displays and the tens of thousands of video screens appearing on virtually every surface.
However, if we ask the very simple question of what the television-watching experience will be like 20 years from now, we can begin to sense how our lives are on the verge of shifting into a whole new gear.
Will watching TV still be a communal experience? Will we be looking at a device, or will the image be projected? Or will it appear on some sort of digital wallpaper? Will it be portable? Will it be 2D, 3D, or perhaps 4D or 5D? Will it be interactive, reactive, immersive, or participative?
The answer to these and many more questions lie in what I call the “Eight Great Explosions in Video” that will happen in the coming years.
Television, the Early Years
The early work on televisions, spearheaded by visionaries like Philo Farnsworth, John Logie Baird, and Vladimir Zworykin began in the euphoric 1920s. But in just a few years the economy tanked and they were forced to develop their technologies during the Great Depression.
The fact that television technology was born out of one of the worst economic times of the past should not be lost on those startups who have been building new video technologies over the past few years.
However, television was originally thought of as a home version of the movie industry which had begun a couple decades earlier. In 1889, William Friese-Greene was issued a patent for his ‘chronophotographic’ camera capable of taking up to ten photographs per second using perforated celluloid film. The first public motion-picture was shown in Europe in 1895.
1928 Baird Model C television
By the time the earliest televisions were being tinkered with, the movie industry had already gone through the silent screen era and the first “talky” came with the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927.
Philo Farnsworth with his television in 1935
As the earliest televisions were beginning to roll off the manufacturing lines in the mid 1930s, the film industry was already making quantum leaps forward with Walt Disney’s release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and the release of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind in 1939.
Since the movie industry was already perfecting the development of content, the stage was being set for the broadcast television era even as the demand for new programming skyrocketed. Over the next couple decades, virtually every family would place high value on the invention of the TV and find a way to purchase one for themselves.
Today a full 99% of all households in the U.S. have televisions in them, with 66% equipped with 3 or more. The number of hours per day that TV is on, in an average U.S. home, is 6 hours, 47 minutes.
While these may seem like staggering statistics, they will seem tiny when compared to the “video everywhere” age we are about to enter into.
Purpose of Video
In the past, video was a one-way form of communication generally focused on providing one of two things – entertainment or education. News and documentaries were common forms of educational television, but most of the airwaves were dedicated to various forms of entertainment which attracted the largest audiences.
As a result of this focus, we currently have a more advanced developer-community for educational and entertainment-related content. More recently gaming has emerged as a dominant industry player. Over time, though, many other creative uses for video will begin to emerge including the following:
- Entertainment – Video entertainment will continue to fragment into thousands of different categories.
- Instructional and Educational – Look for rapid growth in the areas of college and K-12 educational programming.
- News – Micro-niche news services are already carving out video-blogging and super-focused business models. Many companies will experiment with progress-report news services to keep customers informed about any new developments.
- Aesthetics and Art – Video has the ability to add flow and movement to otherwise static pieces of artwork. It gives artists an entirely new pallet of expressive options for breathing life into their ideas.
- Lifelogging – To many of us, our personal relevance is based on the legacy we leave. Capturing the essence of who we are is an important function in fulfilling this basic human need.
- Ambiance – Setting the Mood, creating emotional context to any given environment.
- Archival Purposes – Personal, family, and business video archiving will become big business in the future.
- Self Expression – We will soon define ourselves based on the videos we surround ourselves with.
- Conversation – Conversational video services like Chatroulette, Masturbette, and WooMe are tapping into people’s needs and desires for forming conversational relationships with people in other cultures.
- Two-Way Communications – The Dick Tracy watch never caught on and even FaceTime on the new iPhones is considered more of a novelty than a must-have feature. But over time, two-way video communications will become far more pervasive.
- Social Networking – As social networking expands, many more video elements will come into play, adding new dimensions to those we wish to have as our “friends.”
- Gaming – Video gaming is already one of the largest growth industries in the world. Look for video gaming to fragment as it expands, into 10,000 new niche market areas.
- Discovery – Everything from macro-projects to nano-projects will enrich the world of scientific discovery as video capture devices explode around us.
- Marketing and Advertising – As the number of video display surfaces expands, the creative juices inside Madison Avenue will flow to meet the growing demands. Marketing messages will begin to appear on surfaces we never dreamed possible in the past.
- Relationship Building – The people we meet become far more real once we capture their manners and expressions on video. Future forms of video will allow us to find and form meaningful relationships like never before.
- Data Gathering – In the future, the world around us will be recorded on a real-time basis, with a cast of young people, known as the Terabyters, making it their mission to spider their surroundings. This will give rise to search engines designed for the physical world.
Crowd Accelerated Innovation
Chris Anderson, curator of the TED conferences, believes the video content available online is already educating the masses, causing young people today to think and perform at levels that were inconceivable even ten years ago. He calls this phenomenon “crowd accelerated innovation.”
Videos have a way of reducing the distance between experts and viewers to just one degree of separation.
As Anderson goes on to explain, “Innovation has always been a group activity. The myth of the lone genius having a eureka moment that changes the world is indeed a myth. Most innovation is the result of long hours, building on the input of others. Ideas spawn from earlier ideas, bouncing from person to person and being reshaped as they go. If you’re comfortable with the language of memes, you could say a healthy meme needs an ecosystem not of a single brain but of a network of brains. That’s how ideas bump into other ideas, replicate, mutate, and evolve.”
Crowd Accelerated Innovation isn’t new. In one sense, it’s the only kind of innovation we’ve ever had. What is new is that the Internet—and more specifically online video on the Internet— has made it universally available, turning it into a spectacular source of influence.
Because of this, we are standing on the precipice of the great video explosion. But it won’t be just one explosion. Rather, it will explode on eight separate fronts in stunning fashion.
The Eight Great Explosions of Video
As we work through the original question of “what will it be like to watch television in 2030,” we must first think through the breakthrough innovations that will happen over the next 20 years and determine how and why certain areas will grow faster than others.
Video is set to go through an explosive growth phase. The coming years of video development will be defined by what I call the eight great explosions.
1. Explosion of Television Apps – Today we have over 300,000 apps that have been built for the iPhone and many more for Android and Window 7 phones. Tens of thousands of people have entered into this emerging new market of adding mosaic tile pieces of software capability to our communication systems. However, comparatively few have built apps for television. If, as an example, Apple were to develop their own television with an open API, then invariable developers would rapidly shift their business to building TV apps. We are already seeing widgets and apps for television on a small scale, but this market is set to explode in a big way once the right players enter the market.
2. Explosion of Video Capture Devices – According to Ericsson, mobile broadband subscriptions are on track to surpass 1 billion in 2011 only months after reaching half a billion. Certainly not all of these handheld devices are equipped with video cameras, but they soon will be. Look for tiny cameras to become inexpensive and ubiquitous, with instant upload-to-the-web capabilities. Consider a scenario where 10,000 tiny video cameras are used to monitor every rivet used in the construction of a bridge. Over time it will be possible to monitor any movement associated with a car passing over the bridge and calculate the wear and tear on each of these rivets based on even the tiniest motion.
3. Explosion of Video Display Surfaces – Electronic inks and papers will soon evolve into inexpensive full-motion flexible video fabrics and we will begin to see video surfaces springing to life all around us. Video surfaces will begin to appear on product packaging, in-store displays, on our cars, and even on our clothing. People will produce videos for tiny niche markets like “videos that look good on bicycles,” “videos for your garage door,” and “videos that make your dog stop barking.” Video clothing will become all the rage with video hats, video shirts, and video dresses setting new standards for how people get noticed. Women will even ask such crazy questions as, “Does this video on my pants make my butt look fat?”
4. Explosion of Video Projection Systems – With low-cost LEDs replacing the expensive bulbs in video projectors, a new breed of tiny, super-bright projection system will emerge, giving us the ability to turn virtually any flat surface into an active video surface. Since the biggest barrier to video projection systems has been the cost of the replacement bulbs, next-generation projectors will begin to morph in size and shape, as an add-on to many of our existing gadgets. They will even giving us the tools to make things appear invisible. As an example, the ceiling in our home can quickly become a projection of the sky above it. The sides of our cars can become a projection of what’s on the back side, so they will appear to be part of the landscape. Thinking through some more unusual applications, flying projection systems may even be developed to do such things as “paint” momentary messages on a wall, project disguises on our faces, build ambiance for a party, or change the mood for events and large gatherings.
5. Explosion of Video Content – Over 80 million hours of YouTube videos are consumed globally on a daily basis. In the U.S. over 6 million videos are rented every day. Cisco predicts that 90% of the content on the web will be video content in just 4 years. To meet this growing need, video recording, editing, and messaging will soon become core skills taught to virtually every young child. As this happens, exponential growth of video content will force the need for massive expansion in both bandwidth and storage capabilities.
6. Explosion of Holography – Since 1947 when Nobel Physicist Dennis Gabor first conceptualized holography, the concept has been riddled with far more hype and vaporware than actual marketable technology. But we are making progress. Every advancement in 3D technology and every new blockbuster film requiring 3D glasses is helping to push the envelope further. Look for no-glasses holographic movies to begin appearing within a decade, and further expansion to full-action holo-movies taking place in-the-round with each spectator getting a different perspective depending on their vantage point to happen soon after that.
7. Explosion of Video Gaming – So far, nearly 400 million video game consoles have been sold worldwide. 392.9 million according to my calculations. With the advent of the gesture interface, coupled with advances in augmented reality, video games will soon turn the world around us into our own personalized playing field. The game of life will truly become the game of life. Along with the explosion of video display surfaces and handheld devices will come games designed for every personality, every age group, and every interest group. The creativity and resourcefulness of this industry will continually expand to meet the explosive opportunities and demands.
8. Explosion of Video Bandwidth and Storage – Along with the rapid expansion of video creation will come the growing demand for video bandwidth and storage. Admittedly, bandwidth is one of the biggest choke points in the emerging video world. Video content requires high bandwidth capabilities and the big players like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon who are developing the Internet backbone routinely drag their feet. This situation, however, will be forced to change as countries become more competitive and new bandwidth technologies such as drone-based broadband systems come into play.
Not everything in the video world will be positive. Today the average child who turns 18 has witnessed over 200,000 violent acts on television. Every year the average child is bombarded with over 20,000 thirty second commercials. And the 1,680 minutes each day that the average child spends in front of their TV is making them increasingly fat, lazy, and prone to disease.
On one hand, television is the great educator, the center of modern culture, and a pipeline into everything happening around us. But at the same time, it is sucking up our time, infringing on our relationships, and keeping us from doing meaningful work.
Television is at once both a massive problem and a massive solution. However, as a medium, television has the capability of solving the problems it creates.
So to go back to the original questions I posed at the beginning of this article, television in 2030 will still be both a private and communal experience. We will be watching it on a flexible video fabric that can be either portable or permanent. We will have the option of switching from 2D to 3D to center-of-the-room blow-your-mind holographic TV. And we will have the choice of making it interactive, reactive, immersive, or participative. It will be all this and so much more.
Ironically, the word “television” will no longer be used in 2030. Instead, we will refer to it as…..
…wait for it…
…. “the experience formerly known as television.”