Netflix CEO Heralds the Return of Web TV

— -- It's always interesting to see Netflix CEO Reed Hastings talk, because he has very clear and well-argued opinions about the future of the Web and TV. Or more specifically, the eventual fusion of the Web and TV. He picks winners and losers and pulls no punches.

Nobody denies that the marriage of Web and TV will happen, but there are many competing theories about how it will happen. Hastings says we can expect to see the Web migrate to the TV, not the other way around.

What will it be like in the living room? Hastings envisions that you will watch high quality Web video of all kinds on your TV set in the living room. Much of this video will be ad supported, just as it is today. Your broadband pipe will extend to the Ethernet port in the back of your TV. That TV will have computing power built in to run your favorite Web browser. You will use a new point-and-click remote to point at the content you want on the screen. (Hasting says these connected TVs and pointer remotes will begin showing up at January's CES show in Las Vegas.)

Of course there have been and will continue to be skeptics of the "Web TV" idea, Hastings allows, and for good reason: "The reason Web TV has such a bad rap is because somebody already tried it in the nineties, and it failed." He's referring to WebTV, which went out of business in 1999.

But, Reed says, that was 1999. Where WebTV used dial-up service, standard definition video, an up-down-right-left remote and offered e-mail as its main Web app, the new TV on the Web will run on high-speed broadband and display all kinds of IP video on large HDTVs.

Hastings says that, in the long run, it will be Web video companies that provide video content to the home, not the cable or satellite companies. He explains that Silicon Valley software companies are more innovative and fast-moving than large, slow moving cable and satellite companies.

Supposing Hastings is right, what will the cable companies do with their purpose built cable networks?

Hastings says the video businesses of cable and satellite won't be immediate. "My mother will always buy traditional video," Hastings says. "It won't go away tomorrow--it will have a long tail." Reed says the cable and telephone companies may not be that sore, in the long run, about getting out of the content business. They will become increasingly happier as Web video makes people want to buy more of their highly-profitable cable broadband services.

Hastings' plan makes sense to me, except for one thing: His version of the story seems to involve a lot of wire lines. When thinking about the next generation of telecom and entertainment buyers, I feel sure that they will demand the mobility and flexibility of wireless services and devices. But really, that is the problem of the companies that sell broadband, not companies like Netflix who will package and sell the video content.

Netflix began as a subscription DVD-by-mail service, but later launched a "Watch Instantly" Web video service.