Changing channels - can Silicon Valley transform TV?

Woman watching TV Leaning back, watching TV

What is the problem with television - and has Silicon Valley got the answers?

For the last decade we have been told that TV is ripe for an internet revolution, but so far the attempts of major software firms like Google and Microsoft to change our viewing habits have made little impact.

But in California I've just met a man who thinks he knows where they have gone wrong.

"Silicon Valley is only now beginning to understand what TV is about," says Maksim Ioffe. "It's a 'lean back' experience, not a 'lean forward' experience as web surfing is.

"You're seeing these growing pains as the hi-tech culture tries to digest and understand television."

Mr Ioffe, whose start-up company Dijit has its own plans to revolutionise TV, is a typical example of the modern Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Born in Eastern Europe, with a computer science degree from a top East Coast American university, he ended up working for technology firms on the West Coast.

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Last year Dijit produced an app which turns your phone or tablet into a universal remote control”

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Now he has his own business, born just two years ago, with a small office in San Francisco and big plans built around the idea that television does indeed need fixing - even if Silicon Valley hasn't quite got the hang of it yet.

"The consumer experience kind of blows, to use an American expression," he told me. "Companies don't have the best interest of consumers at heart, they don't care about interoperability."

He says there is plenty of choice in terms of content but far too much complexity, with consumers ending up with a stack of set-top boxes, a pile of remotes and no idea how to find anything worth watching.

Dijit's answer is to give the consumer more control via a second screen - the smartphone or tablet computer that many now have on their laps as they lean back and watch TV. Last year Dijit produced an app which, coupled with a little piece of hardware, turns your phone or tablet into a universal remote control.

On top of that it allows you to search all of the content available from your TV or movie service, see what your friends are recommending on social networks, and then press an on-screen button to play the content you choose.

Maksim Ioffe Maksim Ioffe shows his wares

It's one of a number of applications trying to latch on to this second screen social TV phenomenon - in the UK, Zeebox is another. But it's differentiated by the deals Dijit is cutting with hardware manufacturers like Motorola, which is building the app into its latest Xoom tablet.

Mr Ioffe says his is "a small company trying to do something ginormous" - and it might appear unlikely that Dijit will be the firm that proves that Silicon Valley can kick-start the new television revolution.

Apple may have the best chance in the race to create next generation TV - "they understand the consumer the best" - but he is confident his firm can make a difference.

Dijit is heading to Las Vegas next week to unveil a new product at the Consumer Electronics Show, a tiny firm competing with giants like Sony and Samsung to change the world's most powerful entertainment medium. Which takes a lot of chutzpah, but luckily that is a commodity still in plentiful supply in Silicon Valley.

Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    This simply isn't a technical problem; we already have everything we need to get aggregated feeds of TV shows from multiple networks in multiple territories, automatically select the ones we want, then download them in a bandwidth efficient manner for smooth buffering stutter free viewing, because the 'pirate' systems already do all that.

    The entire problem is luddite copyright holders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Sony, Microsoft and Apple all want to have that 'box' under your TV. . the box that does everything . . including telling you what web sites you can look at, what software you are 'allowed' to run. .
    And if they have their way . . soon, Open Source software will be a thing of the past, and proper computers with applications that you can actually create things with, will be prohibitively expensive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    'For the last decade we have been told that TV is ripe for an internet revolution, but so far the attempts of major software firms like Google and Microsoft to change our viewing habits have made little impact. '

    I don't agree - we have had massive changes. Whyt:

    - iPlayer
    - 4od, ITV etc.
    - the above also stream live
    - HULU in the states and other catchups
    - I watch more online than on a TV now

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Every time the BBC mention Apple . . that's another 3 months I don't buy an Apple product.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The Internet is in essence an active transactional medium.

    TV is a passive medium and at its best affords a brief suspension of disbelief.

    The beasts differ.

    No matter how much interactivity is added TV is about telling stories not playing a form of informational ping-pong!

    All my TVs have (for the past five yr) a networked Media Centre PC attached with a local media server - sometimes useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The biggest problem I have with tv is the ad breaks. I know it pays for the content, but paying over £300 for Sky subscription and then having 30% adverts seems to me excessive. So a tv show that runs for 60 minutes has 20 minutes of ad breaks!

    The BBC cost me £145, that covers some great tv, radio, this web-site (brilliant) all without having to sit through adverts. Bargain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Silicon Valley could revolutionize TV: Create
    1.vehicle that allows viewer to see whether his/her favorite program is on any station & enable the watching of it then & there (i.e. no programming)
    2. virtual reality so that viewer is immersed in the experience physically - sound, sight, smells": Viewer is there.
    3. create voice interface (no more remotes or gadgets).

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    A lot of companies already do this, lets take Samsung, you can already download an app for your Samsung Android that can control, stream programs from, see channel listing of...... your TV. This is nothing new. As someone already mentioned before, my PS3 has been making links between my TV, PC, phone, you name it for a long time. Just because its not in main stream knowledge, does not make it new.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The root of the problem is poor network infrastructure that does not support high volume TV/Movietraffic. Till that changes Net TV will remain viable only for those with fibre or a Tivo type device for using iPlayer or Movie content.

    Time for the UK and the assorted Telcos to wake up and smell the opportunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Sony have already integrated Social Media into their PlayTV device and nobody uses it. Nobody has used it since a month after it was launched and the novelty wore off. It got filled with people spamming COD taunts during Eastenders :(
    It's just not comfortable typing while lounging back on the sofa

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Did not the BBC attempted to be the leader in aggregation ( Project Kangaroo but dumped because it was anti competative)? Sky isa disitributor platform,only and a minor content provider. The BBC was also exploring twitter, facebook etc for feedback. I was asked fro a content suggestion the other day. Does the Question Time duty director follow live the twitterati to shape what happens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    "Apple may have the best chance in the race to create next generation TV" Yet their own product Apple TV is a joke!
    - Need a Mac/PC on to stream content directly from iTunes
    - Can't buy or rent TV Shows & No 1080p HD content available
    - Terrible file format support
    - No iPlayer?!?

    Get real Rory! Virgin have the right idea with the TiVo an on-demand service with Spotify, etc. Not Apple!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    So how come you cover this small company which is doing what Google done 2 years ago with Youtube Leanback and the Leanback remote app but you don't actually mention the original when mentioning Google?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The risk is that Content Providers wake up.
    What if Hat Trick Productions started making comedy shows for Sony TVs? What if Apple did buy Premier TV rights? (They wont)

    The trend is starting, It is already easier to pick up a TV series on iTunes than pay Sky to subscribe to some station you'll rarely watch.
    Services like Crackle and SeeSaw (RIP) are already pushing content digitally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Wow. Thanks for the article Rory. I read it and only towards the end did I realise that all you are talking about is yet another app for the iPhone. Yawn.

    I've got an app for my PSP (phat) that allows me to use it as a universal remote. Having an app on the iPhone (or any other larger screen smartphone or "pad") with an EPG as well is no big leap forward.

    This is not revolutionary at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Interactive TV will simply mean getting program reccomendations and adverts based on your personal profile/viewing habits. If this means I'm more likely to find shows I enjoy, and see adverts for things I might want/need, then I'll sign up.

    I can't see the interaction between TV and social media getting any closer than we currently have when people comment on a show using twitter/facebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What we have in the UK is the same problem as elsewhere in the world. The content providers own the distribution.

    No box maker will be allowed to freely inlcude Sky services, Sky make money selling boxes and it ties people to your product. The BBC wouldn't let XBox Live inlcude iPlayer because MS charge for it.
    AppleTV 1&2 couldn't flourish because Mr Jobs couldn't sign up all the networks

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Not being able to receive content despite a willingness to pay, or having to subscribe to multiple different services forces many consumers into the dark world ... check out this post by New York based, venture capitalist Fred Wilson:

    "Pirate content" will ultimately force media companies to ease consumers frustrations; consumers hate to be abused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    So to sum up...Microsoft and Google have failed, but Apple will save the day


  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If anything people have fewer boxes and remotes thanks to the PVR, which also includes a electronic programme guide. And If you need to be told what to watch by someone on Facebook, then you clearly have no free-will of your own.
    No, the biggest thing in TV will be programme content being influenced, live, by online interaction - and we already have the devices required to join in on the sofa.


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