Yahoo! TV Widgets are the Belle of the CES Ball

Yahoo! has surprised me. Back in August it announced a new TV development platform called the Yahoo! Widget Engine. Developed together with Intel, this Widget engine was billed as the way to get Internet content and functionality to the TV set.

I’ll admit I was skeptical. We’ve heard so many announcements about getting Web content to the TV that my response was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Today I’ve seen it.

yahoo-widgetsNot just a demo of proposed functionality as is so often the case. But I’ve seen a line of partnerships on the device and content sides that backs up Yahoo!’s claims. And though it will be hard for average viewers to grok why, this is the most important TV-related announcement to come out of CES.

Why, you ask? Because most CES announcements are specific to one device or service. A new video editing software suite, a new portable media player, a new 3D television. Even the announcement from LG that it would build Netflix into a line of TVs is a single-device announcement. Interesting, innovative, and pointing us in the right direction, but ultimately limited by the reach of that single device.

Yahoo!’s announcement, on the other hand, is already having a broad impact. Check yesterday’s press release for more detail if you need it, or better yet, see the whole scenario by visiting the Yahoo! Connected TV site, but here’s the list of TV makers who have signed on to build Yahoo! Widget capabilities into their TVs: Samsung, Sony, LG, & Vizio. Three on that list are hungry market share grabbers who are rising rapidly. Sony is a long-established player whose inclusion on the list teaches us something about the future of the connected TV.

In the old days (read: 2008), connected TVs were built around walled content gardens that required the TV maker to strike content deals and figure out how to promote the content to the viewer. TV viewers are notoriously routine-driven so breaking into their routines was particularly difficult to do. Hence, connected TV activities on HP and Sony devices have been modest to date.

In the new world, TV makers will simply provide access to a common platform, the way a PC does. Think about it: when you buy a PC from Dell, you aren’t limited to the software that Dell has programmed, or even software that Dell has chosen to license to you from 3rd parties (the way the iPhone app store works, hmmm, how old fashioned, eh?). You buy a PC from any maker, it runs software from any developer.

That’s the promise of Yahoo!’s TV Widget Engine. As long as sufficient TV makers adopt it, it will become an open standard for putting content on the TV. Open standards, once adopted, enable content innovation.

What content, you say? Here’s a list of people beyond Yahoo! itself developing TV Widgets so far, a list which is likely to increase by a factor of 10x as soon as a million people have Widget-capable TVs: Flickr, eBay, MySpace, CBS, The New York Times, Netflix, Amazon, Blockbuster, Showtime, USA TODAY and Twitter. All major names whose inclusion is likely to tempt others to fall in line. 

I’m meeting with Yahoo! at CES to talk about the future later today. For the first time in a long time, I see Yahoo! playing a significant role in the future of interactive content. Bully for them. It’s just a question of how long until Google decides to jump in and whether TV makers will want to support multiple widget or application systems on their TVs. Plus, I wonder what the long-term payoff to Yahoo! is for building this open system. We’ll talk all of that through. 

This is yet another example of how the software and Internet community is innovating ahead of cable. TV widgets are something cable and satellite have been toying with for years. But they develop too slowly and reach too few customers with their trials to have had an impact. We’ll see how quickly Yahoo!’s Widget Engine can make us forget cable’s attempts to add interactivity to the TV screen.

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5 Responses to Yahoo! TV Widgets are the Belle of the CES Ball

  1. JErb says:

    Not sure if this is the correct recent post to comment on–there have been several recent posts about getting Internet (especially streaming video) onto TV sets. In surfing another blog I follow, I wanted to present nother POV regarding Internet-to-TV and get your comments.

    http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/anthony/2009/01/handicapping_the_next_living_r.html

    Although offering a few good words for the Yahoo! widgets, Anthony states:

    “Integrating the television and the Internet seems like a natural fit. But efforts over the past decade have struggled. One explanation is that past efforts haven’t helped consumers get the “lean back” job done. Further, most consumers will happily use multiple “best-of-breed” devices over “Swiss army knives” with poor versions of multiple tools.

    “The key for television manufacturers and content providers will be to make sure that they are making consumers’ lives simpler. Forcing consumers to adopt new habits to get a solution that pales in comparison to what they could get on their personal computers will lead to continued struggles.”

    Is this attempt to change consumer behavior being thwarted by streaming video being “good enough” to watch on one’s PC (which continue to get better and cheaper) without trying to get it to the new TV?

    Some streaming video quality is bad enough going full-screen on a laptop — will early adoption “failure” result from trying to scale up poor- to mid-quality video onto the latest and greatest plasma or LCD and being unsatisfied with the results?

  2. James McQuivey says:

    Thanks for the post: I agree with Anthony in concept: you should position a new experience in line with prior experiences. This has been the failure of many technologies in the past and it’s something we track in our Convenience Quotient methodology: we call it consistency.

    However, the TV widgets are remarkably consistent with both the TV environment (think of the tickers that run continuously below more and more TV shows as well as the “rollups” or the images that come up over primetime TV shows to promote other shows or sponsors) as well as the Facebook and MySpace world. No surprise that MySpace has developed a widget for Yahoo’s Widget system. Because they know people in MySpace understand how to choose and use widgets. MySpace could be one of the best accelerators of this whole thing because they tend to be big experimentors — and they watch a lot of TV.

    That’s why I think Yahoo’s Widget Engine is the belle of the CES ball. It brings powerful consumer consistency to the Internet+TV game. I welcome any other opinions…

  3. Hal P. says:

    I think this sounds really cool and I think that users are ready for it because so much of them are into using computers. In fact, so many of us are turning to the computer for our entertainment. Which is why I think TV companies and stations are having to look at ways to keep people in front of the tv.

  4. […] – Become the first set-top box to implement Yahoo TV Widgets. I cannot get this widgets solution out of my mind. It’s such an elegant way to open the market to innovation and I like innovation. From what […]

  5. […] wrote about Yahoo’s TV Widget Engine in January, calling it the Belle of the CES Ball. I still stand by the sentiment, so much so that I wrote a very deep dive on the concept for […]

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