Taking a Gaze Into The Future of Television

SAN FRANCISCO — It wouldn’t be a gorgeous summer week here without the TV of Tomorrow show, and it wouldn’t be Tracy Swedlow’s show without nine people (not including her) on the closing panel.

Which it was — and which there were — and somehow, it all worked. The closing session, simply titled “The Tomorrowists,” had one purpose: To describe the future of television. (With flutes of champagne and strawberries. To loosen up.)

Here’s a sampling of the reverie, starting with the notion of “pause” in storytelling. Maybe it becomes a place to “insert your own imagination,” Ed Finn, founding director of the Center for Science & Imagination at Arizona State, said. “Pause is the future of TV as having a very different relationship with time — an asynchronous experience that’s still somehow live.”

Gone will be the known formats of half-hour and one-hour shows. “Everything will blur,” Gary Lauder, managing partner of Lauder Partners, noted. “It will be more like YouTube, where program duration doesn’t stay within any defined lines.”

Complete immersion is on the way, too. This year brought HD displays that bend (a little). TVs that rolled up like scrolls made the rounds of “cool things coming” last year. Next, “television will float. You’ll walk through it,” said Swedlow, who added: “Your TV will become your assistant, your friend, the thing that feeds you.”

Interactive art exhibits are a mainstay at TV of Tomorrow events, and this year didn’t disappoint. Artist Cory Barr, who brought a “magic sandbox” (super cool and not succinctly describable in words, but click through to multichannel.com/July8 for video) and a “shatter wall” (likewise), had this to say about the future of television: “The sensors in the sandbox and on the shatter wall are similar to what LG’s putting in TVs, and can be fed into learning algorithms.” That way, our TVs will select shows for us based on our moods, which they’ll learn, “based on how we move.” (Yikes.)

Other great quips from TVOT:

“Everything will be a television,” said Don Dulchinos, senior vice president of advanced services at CableLabs. “Five years from now, Arthur (Orduña, chief innovation officer for ADT) will have a shirt that’s a TV. But still the bowtie.”

“TV will become aware of our psychoses,” predicted Audrey Balkind, chairman of Bemis Balkind, whom Swedlow described as “a real Mad Men guy, during the heyday of the ad business.”

“TV will be more immersive, more intelligent, more aware, and, probably to a lot of people, a lot more spooky,” artist Barr said.

“TV is going to be watching you as much as you watch it,” Visible World CEO Seth Haberman said.

Swedlow, who once welled up and proclaimed herself verklempt when discussing television inventor Philo Farnsworth, relied on Farnsworth’s definition of the future of television: “An interactive adventure of discovery and imagination.”

Still, though, one thing won’t ever change, Lauder said: “The software will still have bugs.”

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