OPINION: Here’s what a Smart TV really needs

Search.

Let me tell you something. I’m smart-TV’d up. Oh yes. I have a Samsung Smart TV, a Smart Blu-ray player with the same app interface as the TV, a DIRECTV receiver with Pandora and YouTube (and of course satellite programming.) I have an Apple TV. I’ve even had one or two other media streamers to test now and again. I subscribe to several subscription IPTV services. Trust me, I’ve got smart TV going on.

But even for me, smart TV is missing something, and that’s something we take for granted every day: search. Folks, the internet was invented in 1969, and the World Wide Web in 1989, but when did you get on the internet? If you’re an old-timer like me you’ve been kicking around since the mid-1990s. But when did you start depending on it? Ten years ago? Sounds about right. What happened in the early 2000s that turned the internet from a curiosity to a necessity? Search.

If it hadn’t been for Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, and finally Google, none of us would care what was on the internet because we couldn’t find it. Some have even argued that search is the internet; if you can’t find information it’s useless.

Yet, this simple, pervasive lesson hasn’t made it to smart TV yet. Let me explain. I don’t care whether I watch a program on broadcast TV, Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, Blockbuster, or even YouTube, as long as the quality is the same. When I want to watch Star Trek I don’t want to worry about which IPTV service it’s on, or if it’s on Live TV or in my playlist. I want to ask my TV to play Star Trek and ten seconds later, by golly I want to see Spock.

I looked for IPTV search engines and found Find Internet TV, which seems like a good start. But it couldn’t help me find a full episode of Trek, because it doesn’t search Netflix. It also doesn’t search live TV listings and it has no idea what is on my DVR.

For all its foibles, Netflix remains a good way to search for and find content. Its suggestion engine is usually pretty good and it does a good job of putting things on the front page that I actually like. Of course, it only searches Netflix content. Same thing with DIRECTV… it can search for programs on satellite TV or On Demand (although interestingly, searches don’t include its own playlist.) That’s not enough.

If a smart TV or streaming device is really going to change the world (as The Verge thinks Apple could do) search has to be priority one, and search has to go beyond just free IPTV services or closed, single-provider systems. Include antenna, cable, satellite, everything. Even search your competitors. Do that little bit right, and the world you create will belong to you.