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Good news, bad news for Net TV

Family battles over whether to surf or watch Seinfeld do not present a problem for Net TV. But a lack of compelling content and the Net's slowness do, a survey shows.

At least half of Americans "often or almost always" watch television alone, a habit that paves the way for more products such as WebTV that turn the TV into a Web browser, according to a new study by SRI Consulting.

The findings could help alleviate concerns that there will be conflicts between family members over whether to watch TV or surf the Net during prime time. On the other hand, the survey shows that the online experience is not yet compelling enough to compete with TV programming.

"We're finding that most people spend less than a half-hour on online services or the Internet, compared with several hours for TV-watching," said Paul DiSenso, senior technology consultant for SRI.

The report, based on a survey of 1,600 households, also indicates that high-speed Net access over cable TV and phone lines should be popular with online users. About 65 percent of the users surveyed said they were frustrated by the Net's slowness.

The SRI study also found the following:

  • Online support of computer games is a high-growth market. As reported, companies such as Total Entertainment Network and Microsoft are laying plans to jump into this market.

  • About 20 percent of cable subscribers are potential cable modem users. The survey also showed that more than 65 percent of Net users have household incomes of $50,000 or more, compared with 35 percent for the U.S. population as a whole. More than 75 percent of Net users have attended college, compared with 46 percent of the U.S. population.

  • Digital video discs could become an explosive market because of the aging installed base of compact disc players.

    The findings of the SRI report echo similar observations that the Internet has the potential of overtaking TV among consumers.

    Computer industry executives meeting in Davos, Switzerland, this week agreed that such a possibility exists but added that the Net has to be more entertaining.

    "What I worry about is that we will hit a limit in our industry in the number of people to whom it makes sense to be online," said Eric Schmidt, Sun Microsystem's chief technology officer. "To get to 70, 80, 90 percent of the kind of market that television has, we are going to [need] a model that looks a lot more like TV and a lot more like entertainment than any of us has seen so far."