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Ever since television first landed in Americans’ homes more than half a century ago, it has transformed the way people live. Now the technology is undergoing a transformation of its own.
The 80-year-old industry is on the brink of a revolution, thanks to the convergence of personal computers, the Internet and television. Media heavyweights, tech titans and Internet innovators are all fighting for a piece of the next multimillion dollar bonanza — and it could impact how, where and when you watch your favorite shows.
From the CEOs of Twitter, Comcast and Time Warner to actor, producer and Internet investor Ashton Kutcher, CNBC spoke with leaders in the industry to get their predictions of where television is heading, and how they hope to be involved.
Click ahead to see what the future of television may be.
By Erica Emmich, CNBC Associate Producer
Posted 3 May 2012
Ashton Kutchersays that as consistent, higher quality content on the web draws more big name advertisers, there will be a massive shift of billions of dollars.
"I think it starts to tip the scales," Kutcher told CNBC. "And a television dollar or an eyeball in television and an eyeball in Internet will start to become one to one. And once it becomes one to one, the whole damn thing is going to tip."
Kutcher, who is developing original content for a YouTube channel called "Thrash Lab,"says he believes the web has its advantages.
"I'm going to deliver you better analytics about my consumer. You're going to know who they are. You're going to know why they're there,” Kutcher said. “You're going to know where they're going after they came here, and where they came from. And the Nielsens can't give you that on television."
Brian Robertsbelieves television is on the verge of incredible transformation.
"I think there'll be more change in television in the next five or 10 years than the last 25—combined," he told CNBC.
While the convergence of TV and the web is a game changer, Roberts says he believes top quality content is still king.
"That's one of the reasons we wanted to buy NBC Universal. Television and movies are still incredibly relevant. And they just are evolving to work on all these different devices."
Comcastplans to deliver premium content with cutting edge technology, developing a next-generation interface called X1. Roberts says the new X1 platform utilizes cloud technology and integrates social networking.
"What's exciting about X1 is that it brings the best of the Internet and the navigation and the search so you can integrate easily with Facebook,with Twitter. You can create a sports app as we've done,” he said. “It can work on a PC, on the TV or on your iPad or your tablet. So it feels very relevant, very fresh, like the Internet. "
— Comcast is the majority owner of NBC Universal, the parent of CNBC and CNBC.com.
Barry Dillertells CNBC that media companies that are not pushing the limits of innovation will be left behind.
"If you're not experimenting, or innovating, and not risking your 'so to speak' closed business to new business models and ways of behavior, you'll inherit the wind," he said.
That’s a piece of advice he said the media conglomerates should heed.
“The main media companies, since their births, have not been innovative,” Diller said. “They have always tried to prevent innovation from happening, and never invested in R & D. "
Diller is currently backing a controversial start-up called Aereo,which streams live TV to mobile devices by assigning each subscriber a mini-antenna to capture free over-the-air broadcast signals that are routed over-the-web. The technology raises serious concerns about “cord-cutting” — when consumers leave traditional cable TV.
However, Diller isn’t convinced Aereo will lead to customers cutting the cord because cable’s diverse programming offers so much variety.
As for the future of TV? Diller warns: "There's going to be a tremendous amount of disruption. Disruption tends to affect the most entrenched players."
Dick Costolotells CNBC his company is transforming how people watch TV.
"We used to have the few people in your living room that you were having a shared conversation with about what you were watching, it's now exploded beyond the bounds of the living room and it's the world that's having a conversation about what we're all watching," he said.
Costolo says Twitter's use as a second screen to discuss live programming is just the beginning.
"The next evolution is to bring that conversation back into the programming so that these two things start to feed off each other. I think what we'll see then is the conversation on Twitter starts to actually impact what's happening during the program itself in a real-time feedback loop," he said.
Costolo believes the ways Twitter can affect TV are unlimited.
"It can be original programming. It can be a live stream. It can be backstage at what we're seeing live on TV right now,” he said. “So I think that it can be both an accompaniment to what we're seeing on TV and look like an actual live second viewing of the show. Or it can be its own original programming that is then backed up on TV."
Bob Igertells CNBC the future is about taking advantage of multiple platforms to reach as many people as possible and build Disney’s brand.
"The big picture philosophy is not look at the business as one platform, and then another platform, and another. It's to look at it first — for this company as the investment in and the creation of branded, high-quality intellectual property product,” he said.
Iger says Disneyhas no choice but to create content for all the new platforms because "everything competes with everything these days."
Disney teamed up with Comcast to give Comcast subscribers access to Disney content anytime, anywhere, on any device. Iger praised this deal for expanding on a key partnership.
"That multichannel subscription model is very successful. It has delivered great value to shareholders of these great companies now for a number of years and I believe it will continue to."
Jeff Bewkessees a dramatic shift in television on the horizon. He believes the new standard for TV services will be subscription-based, on demand, and available on multiple platforms like his successful HBOnetwork.
"Two to three years from now, every network will look like HBO," he told CNBC.
Not only will programming on your TV set evolve; devices will also play a more significant role.
"Live TV will be streamed to your iPad, provided that you have subscribed to that channel."
Bewkes believes that as long as people are paying to subscribe to content, it should be more readily available — on demand.
"Everyone has all these channels in their home on their television set. They deserve to have those on demand on their TV and on every other device they own," he said.
That would mean there’s no limit to where people will be able to watch shows.
“Whether you're at home and you're watching on a laptop or whether you're out and you're holding a tablet, you can go to your channel and you can get — you know, pick up your favorite show on your favorite channel,” he said.
“This is the best quality of TV that's ever existed. It's really the golden age of television is right now. "
For Robert Kyncl, the future is about expanding the breadth of content through partnerships. YouTubeplans to do just that by partnering with a diverse group of producers to create original YouTube channels.
"Quality can come from anywhere. It can come from users, pros, semi-pros,” Kyncl told CNBC. “We want to make sure that we have all of them, that we don't have just one class of content creators, that we have all of them."
Kyncl says this move will allow the tech giant to explore new opportunities and develop original material that will attract users to niche programming.
"There are many, much more qualified people, whether they're on Madison Avenue or in Hollywood, who are creative,” he said. “And we could never match their skill set. So what we do is we look at things very pragmatically. We look at what our users want with all the data we mine and harness all the data that we have. And we are aiming to delight users."
The YouTube initiative allows producing partners to hold more creative control.
“I think that's what's different from what is happening on TV, where a lot of creators get a lot of creative direction, " Kyncl said.
Jason Kilar thinks people are still tied to the traditional TV experience — on the couch.
"While [people are] watching a lot on their iPads or watching a lot on their smart phones and obviously they're watching a lot on computers, it turns out they watch most of the content on this big monitor in their living room still," he told CNBC.
But, he adds, "The future of television is all about people getting what they want, when they want, how they want it."
Kilar thinks knowing exactly how and what viewers are watching on Hulu is helpful in determining what those viewers might want to watch. Kilar says the company uses viewing data to determine what types of original content to produce.
"We take a look at who our customers are, what they're watching, stories that we know [people] would like to [watch], but aren't being told. And then that gives us confidence as to what to invest in from an original series perspective," he said.
Hulu's first original program is called "Battleground," a series about a struggling Senate campaign.
It's the battle of the century, and the front line is your living room. Billions are at stake as media giants, tech titans and Internet innovators revolutionize the future of television.
• Visit the show page • The ‘NEW’ Premium Content Networks
• TV: From Interacting to Watching
• The Advertising Revolution