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Study: 'I want my Internet on TV'

A study by the Consumer Electronics Association finds that about half of prospective TV buyers say they are likely to purchase an Internet-connected TV.

Panasonic's VieraCast with Amazon Video on Demand is one slice of the Internet on TV. Panasonic

A new study by the Consumer Electronics Association, the industry group representing electronics manufacturers, finds that nearly half of prospective TV buyers say they want to buy an Internet-connected TV.

The study, conducted in December 2008, asked respondents to say how they'd use their connected sets, and the most popular answers included accessing information about current TV shows or identifying a song played on a show (48 percent) and finding out more about the actors (44 percent). Asked whether they currently surf the Web while watching TV, 30 percent of "online adults" responded "always or usually" while 32 percent answered "sometimes."

Activities likely to be moved from the PC to the living room TV include watching online video (62 percent), getting weather updates (59 percent), and playing online games (57 percent).

As we reported at CES, TV makers are using Web connectivity as a major differentiating factor this year. One example is Panasonic's proprietary VieraCast, which offers news, weather, access to Picasa photos, YouTube videos, and, recently, access to Amazon Video on Demand content. Another is Yahoo Widgets, available in TVs from Samsung, Sony, LG, and Vizio. It currently includes similar services as VieraCast, minus the video, although future widgets will likely add video streaming from a variety of partners--Yahoo says more than 100 widgets will be available by the end of 2009. Netflix's Watch Now service, for its part, will be available on select LG TVs such as the LH50 series.

One thing these iterations of Web-on-TV share is called the "10-foot GUI" in industry parlance--an interface designed for use from the couch, not the computer desk. The design favors linear navigation, large icons, and minimal typing beyond entering log-in information, and ideally interaction can happen using just the TV's remote control. Microsoft tried the concept with its Windows Media Center interface, but I think the services above come closer to mainstream acceptance. That 60-odd percent of users who combine Web surfing and TV watching are likely using laptops or iPhones, not desktop PCs connected to their televisions.

Despite the CEA's rosy outlook, the Web-on-TV raises some sticky questions. If you can get enough video via the Internet on your TV, what's to stop you from canceling your cable subscription? The study avoids that issue, focusing instead on the complementary relationship between the Internet and TV programming, but in the end cable TV is just another service--and an expensive one at that.