ipad2010 will be defined by two narratives being told by the media about the media. The first narrative is that traditional press organizations are gung-ho about the iPad and it’s potential to revolutionise the print world. The second narrative is that the exciting future of television lies with 3D. While both of these narratives may be true (sort of), what is being ignored is that the iPad will have a far more fundamental impact on the way television is distributed and consumed.

Critics of the iPad have shouted loudly about the fact the iPad lacks connectivity via USB ports and is, in essence, just a ‘large iPod Touch’. Which is completely right and serves as the greatest strength of the device. Ultimately, the iPad is just another screen set to enter your life. An iPod Touch screen isn’t large enough to really enjoy reading a long form book, magazine, or comic book, nor does it provide a pleasurable experience in laying in bed watching a TV show. These are the strengths of the iPad 9.7inch screen. The iPod Touch is great for listening to music while on the go, watching a TV show while commuting on a bus, and getting information while you’re out and about. Fundamentally, they’re the same device, but the differing size screens open each device up to differing purposes.

And then there is your television.

Televisions stopped serving simply as receivers of broadcast signals on the day that we all started hooking up VCR players to them. We then started connecting video game systems, DVD players, Blu-Ray, computers, and all manner of multi-media devices. New televisions are starting to be equipped with widgets providing direct access to online media. Acting in a similar way to the applications on your smart phone, it’s easy to see a very near-future where the consumer has complete control over which widgets get added to their home TV screen, providing access to a wide array of media providers. iView, 7Plus, FixTV, Hulu, YouTube, and Al Jazeera widgets may be some of many entertainment gateways all existing on your TV soon.

tv_widgetsYour television no longer functions as it used to, but rather will soon offer the same sort of connectivity and functionality of the smaller screens/devices in your life. That said, the key point of difference between your television and an iPad is the additional function of the television tuner in your traditional TV set. While television sets are being built with these widgets, they’re certainly not widely available yet and it will take several years for them to reach the saturation point required for them to be a serious threat to broadcast TV. They will certainly continue to chip away at the broadcast networks marketshare, however.

The threat that the iPad, smart phones, and other similar screen-based devices pose to traditional television broadcasters is developing familiarity. As users develop an increasing familiarity with sourcing their content via application and widget media portals, the more likely they are of adapting quickly to them when they purchase new television sets.

TV networks all seem to be intensely focused on the idea of 3D television (which needs to be legislated for, so they can access the spectrum). Instead, they really need to take note of the growing threat posed to them by the new distribution modes established through these new portable devices. They are ideal for legal media distribution. In fairness to the broadcast networks, the iPad is still yet to be launched in Australia (May 28 for people who got their order in early, and by June 7 for me), so its not as if the boat has even yet started to sail. But, they certainly need to be wary not to leave it too late.

At a greater risk than the Broadcast networks is Australian pay television subscribers. I know that I, for one, would much rather pay a few bucks a week to access a CNN, World Movies, Sci-Fi Channel, or Comedy Central application than to subscribe to a 40+ channel service. Foxtel, Austar, and newer players like Fetch TV should be very worried about the business models their content providers may pursue.

Don’t get too distracted by the idea that print is the only change coming with the iPad, or that 3D television is the next evolutionary step. The future of television exists not in broadcast, but in Internet delivery straight to your screen – regardless of how big it may be.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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