The way we watch television has changed immensely in recent years. DVRs have changed when we watch TV by allowing us to record, rewind, and fast-forward through our favorite shows (and the commercials that support them). Televisions themselves have become wide, flat, and HD. But television doesn't just live in our TV's anymore: it is now also readily available online. The internet has changed how we watch television.

YouTube has made it easy for anyone television to share videos online. Web-only content such as that produced by Revision3 is gaining loyal viewers and television networks are letting people stream full-episodes on their websites, subscription services like NetFlix, applications like Joost, and web services like Comcast's Fancast, CBS', and Hulu.

Hulu, which is the No. 3 online video distributor (after YouTube and MySpaceVideo)  is especially showing signs that the move to online viewing is going mainstream: 380 million streams as of March 2009. Its appeal is only growing now that Disney has joined NBC and Fox (News Corp.) as a joint venture partner of the site - resulting in an exclusive distribution deal of NBC, ABC, and FOX for the next 2 years. It is  probable that CBS will join the other three.

Online video is so popular that Nielsen has said that more people are watching video online than with a DVR. The amount of people watching online video will probably increase much in the next years, especially with more integrated efforts such as that of CNN and Facebook for President Obama's inaguration, and Time Warner's "TV Everywhere" - a concept that aims to identify traditional television subscribers in order to grant them access to premium online content.

Do we really want to watch TV on our computers, cellphones and iPods?

Of course we do. But the next phase in television innovation is bringing what we love about the internet to our TV sets: user-generated content, web apps, content-aggregation, zero dollar streams, and... options.

There are already some exciting examples of where television is headed. Roku's digital video player lets you watch content from Netflix and Amazon Video On Demand. The XBOX 360 also lets you watch Netflix and other streaming video. Apple's "Apple TV" lets you watch downloads from iTunes as well as content from YouTube and Flickr. Slingbox lets you "send" content from your TV to other devices. AT&T's U-Verse and Verizon's FiOS have invested in an IPTV infrastructure that will allow them to deliver television content PLUS interesting interactive functions (such as FiOS' Widget Bazaar which will let people use Twitter, YouTube and Facebook).

Other options are sure to shake things up a bit. Boxee is a cross-platform "social media center" that allows users to view, rate and recommend content.  Sezmi is a startup getting ready to roll out later this year with the goal to deliver the "best of TV and the Internet" in a very affordable way. And finally, Tru2Way technology allows cable companies like Comcast to deliver their cable content to a television.. without the need for a set-top-box at all.

The fact is that all of us have something to complain about television today. Whether it is the quality of content, the confusing and high prices, missing features, lack of customer service, or the multitude of incomplete options, most of us have hope for an easier and more advanced TV experience.

So what is the future of television?

The future of television is not perfect, but it is fully integrated with the internet. It is both wired (IPTV) and wireless (4G technology). It is everything and anything at any time (streaming similar as with Hulu or downloading a-la-carte like with iTunes). The future is fragmented and it is full of niches. It is even more channels and more user-generated content. The future is on whatever device you want (or can afford). It is also global, mobile, responsive, customized, personalized, interactive, truly on-demand, and incredibly social.

Some might say that this view is hopeful and impossible due to the way the industry operates today. But, if the internet continues to give power to the people (and it will), television will soon have no option but to follow.

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.