Why the Future of TV Still Isn't Here Yet

As content providers continue to intimidate tech companies with a seemingly endless couch-potato conundrum, the latest innovation in the war to win your living room isn't some new gadget from Apple or Netflix, or even that exciting à la carte content delivery system from Intel — it's a protocol that helps our screens better communicate with one another. YouTube and Netflix have teamed up to create something called DIAL, a competitor of sorts to Apple's AirPlay, which, as GigaOm's Janko Roettgers describes it, "helps developers of second-screen apps to discover and launch applications on smart TVs and connected devices." Basically, it turns your phone into a kind of wireless super-remote for your TV, as Roettgers explains: 

With DIAL, the Netflix app on your phone will automatically discover that there is a device with a Netflix app connected to your TV. It will fire up that app, and then the two apps are free to do whatever they want — which presumably involves some healthy binge-viewing.

This solves a "big problem" because it makes using those apps on your smart television a lot easier.  As of right now, controlling the Netflix app on a PlayStation still requires the console remote to open up the app on your television before controlling it from a phone or tablet. This eliminates a step — and that, ladies and gents, is the biggest thing actually happening in TV tech right now. Instead of letting us pay just for the content we want, the cable industry's aging model is still forcing tech companies to help us sift through all the extras were forced to buy. Because with the big media companies refusing to budge on innovative content deals so far this year, "content discovery" tools like GIAL and AirPlay remain one of the only ways everyone can get along. 

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It wasn't supposed to be this way, of course. Many expected hardware like a supped-up Apple TV or the Roku streaming stick to "fix" television — instead of some protocol that makes finding stuff on our TVs easier. But, as Netflix discovered when it tried to get in the hardware business, the total package can alienate the other key players. Back in 2007, the streaming company had a set-top box in the works that would transform Netflix into a cable competitor, reports Fast Company's Austin Carr. But CEO Reid Hastings scrapped the idea because it was too competitive. "We could not be competing against Sony, LG, and Samsung," says Steve Swasey, then the company's VP of communications. On top of the potential loss of support from hardware makers, this separate Netflix box scared away the content owners, with which Netflix has worked so hard to get streaming TV deals. 

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The old-school media industry's fear of tech-world competition has driven the future of television in a spiraling direction. When one of the too-many entities gets offended, the future falls apart, as we saw with Google TV in an experiment that ultimately scared off content providers as well. A protocol like DIAL is the politically correct solution: It doesn't change how we pay for content — but it sure does work within the comfortable way we're used to sitting down and watching TV!

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