The annual CES show is in full swing, and the buzz is all about TV over the internet — IPTV. This is simply a local event in a larger shift from Mass Media to Personal Media (see Farewell information, its a media age). Internet video is arriving first on our computer screens and as “cellywood” productions on the tiny screens of cellphones, iPods and Playstation handhelds. Eventually, internet video will make it all the way to our TVs, but count on the cable companies, incompatible standards and the pointless complexity of computer and network systems to hold this vision back a bit.
But as IPTV arrives, there will be one surprise that dwarfs the myriad other surprises that will arrive. You won’t just watch your TV — your TV will watch back. You will be as exposed as you are every time you do a Google search or order a book on Amazon. The net will know more about your viewing habits than Nielsen knows about its lab rat viewer households. We will all become like tagged bears, tracked across cyberspace by a horde of relentless watchers analyzing our every move.
And who will the watchers be? Not the NSA, but advertisers and other commercial data-miners. Eventually, mass-customized advertising will be inserted into the video stream. You are a Pepsi drinker? Don’t be surprised if you see a disproportionate number of Coke ads, complete with a soundtrack from your favorite rock group. Or they know you are an avid golfer, and suddenly a tiger Woods synthespian is peering out from the screen, extolling the virtues of customized clubs or a personal cyber-coach.
This prospect is enough to make Huxley turn in his grave, but Americans won’t object at all. Viewers will happily submit, trading what little privacy they have left in exchange for a discount on viewer fees or the odd cheesy trinket. I’ll even bet the average couch potato will welcome the custom ads as evidence that someone out there cares enough to target them.