Now playing in living rooms all across the country–the World Wide Web. Having proven its worth as a valuable business tool, technology firms are now TX: trying to make the Internet as ubiquitous as television. In fact, several companies are trying to make it Dart of your television. Many marketers believe convergence of television and the Net will allow companies to recoup much of the vast amounts of cash that have been thrown at the World Wide Web by providing larger viewing audiences.
It is no wonder that technology companies want to bring the Internet to the home via television. While about 37% of U.S. homes have personal computers, more than 98% have television sets, according to IDC/Link, a New York City research firm. Companies are banking that WebTV, which lets you switch back and forth between the Internet and regular TV programs, will someday just be another way to watch and experience television. Consumer electronics giants, such as Sony Electronics and Philips, believe access to the Web, e-mail, chat rooms, online shopping malls and newsgroups are ripe for a major push into the home.
Both companies offer set-top Internet access boxes, similar to those needed for cable access, which combine with your television to provide access to the Internet–sans PC. These devices, called Internet appliances, are leading the Net’s charge out of the home office and onto the television.
The first of these Internet appliances to reach the consumer market are the Son, WebTV Internet Terminal ant the Philips Magnavox Internet Unit. Available in electronics and departments stores since September 1996, both devices, including set-top box and remote controls, cost $329.95. Heavy e-mail and newsgroup users will want to purchase the wireless keyboard for $69.95. Of course, you’ll need to pay for access to the Internet. WebTV Networks is currently the only content provider for the set-top devices. The cost to subscribe to WebTV is $19.95 per month for unlimited access, which brings the total cost to around $400, as opposed to at least $1,500 for a new computer.
Although these units deliver the Internet via the television, expect to see Internet appliances incorporated into everything, from telephones to pagers. Most will be marketed as consumer electronic devices like radios, CD players and television sets. Zenith plans to introduce the first Internet-ready television later this year. Unlike the set-top boxes, Zenith’s device will have the modem included in the television.
Steve Perlman, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Palo Alto, California-based WebTV Networks Inc., believes the greater value of the Net is its ability to offer people a new world of information and entertainment. “People have heard that they should be on the Internet. The way WebTV presents the Internet doesn’t look like the Internet; it looks like television,” says Perlman. “People are not interested in the Internet per se. What they are interested in are entertainment and information.”
Although the low cost is a plus, the Internet appliances don’t have the capacity to emulate even the most mundane computer’s tasks, such as