Will Net, Entertainment Ever Mix?

By Janelle Brown
Wired, Beverly Hills, Calif., February 13, 1998
What, exactly, is online entertainment? With "entertainment" long defined by the passive mediums of television, film, print, and radio, the group assembled this week at Networked Entertainment World is struggling to adapt the idea of leisure activity to a medium that requires at least a little bit of work and engagement.

"What's entertainment? It's what you do when you're not paid to do something," said Hala Makowska, a vice president at Time Inc. New Media. "To say entertainment means you've got to shut your brain off is a wrong assessment."

Networked Entertainment World, put together by ZDComdex and the American Film Institute and concluding today, has drawn together an interesting mix of futurists, Hollywoodies, Web developers and marketers to discuss the future of online entertainment.

With Web-based video and audio still in their infancies, however, a lot of attention was paid to the growing emergence of broadband. Very soon, the more optimistic panelists postulated, broadband will provide "compelling content" with amazing video and audio.

Intel's Ron Whittier, senior vice president of the company's content group, demonstrated several broadband applications, including an impressive product called Intertainer, which helps provide books, video, music, other shopping, and TV on demand over the Net. Although broadband technology hasn't entered the mainstream (panelists guesstimated 2004), Whittier envisioned that media apps like Intertainer will attract mass audiences and drive broadband demand.

But even if broadband enables high-speed access to traditional narrative entertainment, the question remains: How will that content be viewed - by PC or TV?. While interactive applications like commerce, communication, gaming, and data retrieval are well-suited to PC interfaces, and traditional passive entertainments are best served by TV, the reverse doesn't work.

"The idea of the TV and PC converging is just not sensible," argued Hal Krisbergh, chief of Worldgate Communications. "The TV platform is an entertainment platform and you're not going to watch Sunday night at the movies on your PC. When people ask, 'TV or PC?' what they really mean is, are computing technologies going to make their way into the TV set?"

Regardless of the outcome of convergence, Neal Stephenson pointed out, what does emerge as online entertainment is going to have to be good enough to compete with TV, film, books, and radio for the tiny slice of leisure time that consumers have today.

"Most of the Internet is crap," said Alan Kay. "But how good is the Internet and its convolvement with computers going to be when it's trying to be good?" But he added, optimistically, "When it's trying to be good, it's very good indeed."