Internet-enabled TVs: we don’t want ’em

A recurring theme at CES in recent years has been Internet-enabled televisions: TVs ready to have an Ethernet cable plugged into the back and then to deliver a range of online content ranging from YouTube to NetFlix movie rentals to specialised Yahoo! gadgets.

From an Australian perspective these developments have often seemed largely irrelevant if only because few of these televisions make it down under and even fewer of the connected services (NetFlix is the most visible participant in these deals and has precisely zero interest in the Aussie market for starters). However while we’ve been busy quietly seething with jealousy it turns out that our American cousins have been busy ignoring all those glamorous new connectivity features.

It’s not that the sets aren’t out there. In 2009 Ethernet-enabled televisions were the second-fastest growing consumer electronics category in North America with sales up by 830% according to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). In 2010 that growth will slip to 129% but the overall number of sets able to be connected will continue to rise.

“Roughly 20% of the TVs shipped in 2010 will be Ethernet enabled and connected crossing 50% in 2013” said CEA chief economist Shawn DuBravac during a pre-show media briefing at CES.

However getting consumers to actually use those options is a bit more of a challenge. “In our research we continuously find that when consumers connect their TVs to the Internet they’re overwhelmed by the possibilities” DuBravac noted.

The figures bear that out. Almost two-thirds of US consumers have not connected their TV to the Internet. Indeed viewing TV and watching DVD movies remain by far the most common uses for the box. Gaming — a well-established and multi-billion dollar industry — only happens on 43% of US sets.

Even that looks impressive compared to online activities. Just 8% of TV owners have used their TVs to view downloaded content 6% for Internet access and 4% email.

A partial explanation may be that the tightly-integrated experience of services such as iTunes with the iPod or Amazon with the Kindle haven’t been replicated in most TV environments. “Consumers are demanding a seamless experience” DuBravac said. “In the past we’d buy these kinds of services in isolation.”