Flash May Come To The TV, But It Won’t Have Many Eyeballs

This morning, Adobe announced that they are working to bring the Flash Platform to the living room via broadband enabled TVs, set-top boxes and other devices and are already working with multiple content, OEM and System on Chips (SoC) vendors to make this happen. While I don't blame Adobe for wanting to get Flash on as many devices and platforms as possible, the reality is that this won't be a game changer or have much impact.

This isn't a knock on Adobe, they are being smart and trying to extend the Flash Platform to as many places as possible. But Flash was never built for video, let alone for operating outside the PC environment. That's not to say that it can't work on other devices, but I see quite a few hurdles in their way keeping this from being successful.

Lets start with the broadband enabled TV route. The average consumer holds on to their TV for twelve years, a stat Netflix recently provided on one of their IR calls. I don't know if that is true or not, but even Adobe's blog says the average is at least six years. While there are over fifty broadband enabled TVs models that will be coming out in the second half of this year, realistically how many are going to be sold in the first three years? The numbers won't be big. Even set-top boxes don't get replaced every few years and the cable company never goes door to door replacing equipment. Until I got TiVo with cable cards and dumped my cable box, my set-top box had not been replaced in six years.

Putting all that aside, how well will Flash work on the TV in terms of performance? For starters, when it specifically comes to HD video quality, Flash is not exactly leading in that department. Trying to get HD videos to play on my MacBook from their showcase website is a poor experience, with my six month old MacBook not being able to handle the processing power that's needed. Yes, it works for 480p content, but only Adobe classifies 480p as "HD" on the web, no one else does. How much processing power will the TV or set-top box need to have even with the "optimized implementation of Flash technology" that Adobe is working on? Flash video is a resource intensive beast and unless Flash Lite is much better, I think the performance is going to be a big issue. I want to see this working at 1080p on a 50" TV set without someone needing to have a 10MB connection.

While Adobe did announce this with the support of a bunch of major content owners, none of them said exactly what they are supporting. Will it be text and widgets, or specific video apps? If we're talking widgets, like the kind that Yahoo! has been working on, great, but that's not video. I remember when Adobe announced the Adobe Media Player for the desktop with a bunch of content partners, which sounded great, but has gotten almost no traction. Having content owners mentioned in the release does not guarantee adoption or success.

Many in the industry point to a recently released Parks Associates white paper as proof that broadband households want widgets and web video on their TV. The report says that "almost 50% of [broadband households] are interested in premium Web content, including TV shows and movies, through a connected set-top box."
Great. But simply being "interested" does not mean they are willing to
replace their TV, spend money or actually go out of their way to buy a
device that enables them to do this. I'm "interested" in having a
blu-ray player, but to date, I have not spent the money to replace my
DVD player. Being interested is not enough and is not a sign that
adoption will take place.

I don't think anyone would debate that the Flash Platform is not going to come to the living room by way of the TV set or set-top box, in any large quantity, anytime soon. And Adobe could be laying the groundwork and going after this market today for what may happen five or ten years down the road and looking to the future instead of the present. But unlike Flash on the PC, Adobe has to rely directly on the TV and set-top box manufactures in order to make this work. And considering who Adobe has to deal with and the host of problems those companies have, I would not want to have to rely on them in order to have a successful platform.