Do We Want To Video Conference In Front Of Our TVs?

Hey y’all! Pardon mah accent, but I just came back from three jam-packed days at the South by Southwest (SxSw) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. I moderated a panel on enterprise mobile apps. As a bellwether of how hot enterprise mobility is there were more than 200 people in our standing-room-only session. 

(Plug alert: Avaya VP for Emerging Technologies and Innovation Chris McGugan will speak about how to use mobile apps for better collaboration at the CIO Summit in Palo Alto, Calif. on Tuesday March 12. If you want to get taste for McGugan’s ideas, check out his piece about the future of customer experience management. Now, back to SxSw.) 

I heard a bunch of interesting talks at SxSw, which is still going on and is expected to draw 30,000 people to the tech/interactive portion alone (the film and music festivals are even BIGGER). One was by the founder and CEO of Roku Inc., Anthony Wood. Now, I’m one of the 5 million users/fans of the Roku streaming media device, which I use with the TV my master bedroom. The $99 Roku 3 just came out and is the top-selling electronics item on Amazon.com right now. 

So I just had to come and listen. I covered most of my thoughts about Roku, which is wrestling whether to add YouTube videos to its already deep well of content even as it begins to compete heavily with it for video producers and bloggers, in my Business2Community blog. 

tv videoconf.jpg

Videoconferencing in front of the TV at home may look good, but mobile and PC forms are taking off faster, says Roku’s CEO.

One thing that I wanted to give more time to was Wood’s reaction to my question about whether Roku had any plans to add a videoconferencing app such as Skype. Roku is aggressively trying to add to its roster of apps and games (there are about 100 today, including Angry Birds). But despite numerous requests for Skype on Roku’s own user forum, Wood is dubious.

“We’ve had many discussions internally but always
decided not to do it,” he said. (Full disclosure: Avaya’s Flare Experience and Scopia Desktop and Mobile provide business-class personal video conferencing software on tablet, phone and laptop that
compete indirectly with Skype.)

Part of the issue is Roku’s lightweight hardware. Even with the Roku 3’s faster dual-core Cortex ARM-9 processor, it remains 300 times less powerful than a PC, Wood estimates (Roku’s efficient operating system is able to squeeze better performance out of the underpowered chips). That might make it difficult to support high-resolution two-way video communications.  

But Wood also cites that the failure of past TV-based
videoconferencing products as proof of lack of consumer demand, though, let’s be clear, only in front of the television.

In Wood’s opinion, personal and desktop videoconferencing is already
“very popular on phones and laptops.
I don’t think that people want to do
that in front of their TV.”

I think he’s right. When I watch TV, it’s usually from a far distance, in a dimly-lit room, snuggled up on the sofa or cozy in bed. Those are challenging conditions for a Webcam. And they also show how the TV remains a lean-back device for consuming media, not two-way interaction. Much better instead to use a tablet like an iPad to videoconference. Indeed, I bet a lot of you occasionally videoconference while sitting in FRONT of your TV using the tablet or smartphone as your second screen.

So I agree with Wood: TV-based video conferencing for consumers, even though it’s being embedded into Smart TVs, isn’t going to take off in a major way. It’s had many years and decades to do so, after all.

But other forms of personal and desktop video conferencing ARE fast on the rise, both on the consumer level but also in the business realms, as they provide a richer, almost-live experience that create connections and accelerate productivity. To learn more, ceck out the Video Collaboration section of the just-published Avaya Guide to Collaboration Trends e-book for articles by Radvision VPs Bob Romano and Moshe Machline, Forrester Research and myself.

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