Yahoo's Web TV faces uphill battle

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc wants viewers to “fall in love” with its effort to bring the Web to the TV, but questions remain about how the service will operate and how successful it will be in reaching consumers.

A screenshot of Yahoo! TV taken January 10, 2009. REUTERS/Yahoo!

It’s an ambitious undertaking because past attempts to “converge” the online and TV worlds have sputtered.

Yahoo’s Web TV offering, which the company said will be free of charge, is centered on so-called “widgets” -- or small Internet applications -- that are lined up along the bottom of the screen.

By design, the widgets offer only a slice of the online experience and not a complete Web interaction. For example, there is no standard Web browser, and a conscious effort was made to avoid applications that involve typing.

Moreover, perhaps the most common online activity, Web search, is not offered for now. Whether consumers will find such a limited online service attractive remains to be seen.

Yahoo plans to make money off advertising, although the company will roll it out carefully.

“We want users to fall in love with the service before we bombard them with ads,” said Patrick Barry, vice president of connected TV at Yahoo.


Barry emphasized that the Internet experience is designed to never overshadow the TV’s content. Users will be able to stream videos from YouTube, check news, share photos, and do many other normal online activities.

Yahoo formally unveiled the service at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

The company managed to convince a number of consumer electronics heavyweights to include the widget service in their future products, announcing partnerships with companies including Samsung Electronics Co, LG Electronics Inc and Sony Corp.

The service will be included in TVs being shipped in North America and to 10 countries in Europe, Yahoo said.

The Web TV initiative was originally jointly announced last summer by Yahoo and Intel Corp. But Intel’s CE 3100 chip will be used only in Internet-enabled TVs and devices offered by Toshiba, and a set-top box from Samsung, the company said.

Wilfred Martis, director of Intel’s digital home group, emphasized that the partnerships announced at CES were only the start of the initiative.

“This is the beginning of this huge sea change in the consumer electronics space ... . There have been a lot of false starts in this industry but I think we now have critical mass between content providers, service providers, OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), silicon providers. Everybody is working together.”


One of the most intriguing -- and perhaps trickiest -- aspects of Yahoo’s Web TV push is the open platform. Much like Apple Inc’s iPhone, third-party developers will be able to write new widgets that can be downloaded onto a TV, some for free, some for a fee. A developer’s kit was released on Wednesday.

Barry declined to say how much of a cut Yahoo would take for fee-based widgets. The number of widgets a user can download will depend on the TV.

New widgets will first have to be approved by Yahoo and then the individual TV makers will decide whether or not to offer the application.

When asked whether the company would block any widgets that contained objectionable material, such as adult content, Barry declined to answer the question directly.

He said the company is working with its hardware partners to formulate a content policy. Barry stressed that the service would feature an extensive array of administrative controls for parents looking to keep their kids away from inappropriate content.

Editing by Xavier Briand