This week at its launch event for the 2009 range of TVs and home cinema equipment, Panasonic has barely stopped banging the drum of VieraCast -- but what the hell is it, and why should you give a monkey's?
Like so many other manufacturers, Panasonic wants to bring a tiny corner of the Internet to your TV. Unlike Samsung, it's decided to go it alone, rather than enlist a company such as Yahoo to do the heavy design work. Instead, Panasonic has created its own Internet portal, through which its TVs and home-cinema equipment can allow you access to YouTube, Picasa photos and Bloomberg financial news.
But who pays for all this? In short, Panasonic does, but there's more to this story that implies a future revenue stream. During its press conference, the company claimed that its only motivation for including this technology was to sell TVs. Being the cunning, investigative technology journalists we are, we think it might have seen a very tasty potential source of hard cash. Firstly, we can see a time when Panasonic sells advertising on the service. Because there's no contract between the consumer and Panasonic, there is nothing to stop them selling data about what you use VieraCast for. They could also conceivably sell adverts too, making it a few extra quids.
The other, even more cunning way to monetise VieraCast would be to charge companies for access to the portal. After all, with potentially hundreds of thousands of worldwide eyeballs at its mercy, it could be very popular with content creators.
So, what's the killer app for VieraCast? Well, it's not on the service yet -- and there's no indication it ever will be -- but we think it could be iPlayer. The two VoD services that are available are both European news agencies, but both work brilliantly, and even with reasonably modest data rates look pretty good. If the BBC gave Panasonic access to a higher-rate stream, the iPlayer could look very smart indeed on TV. It's been frustrating looking at the potential of iPlayer and not seeing it being used properly. Why isn't it available for Xbox 360 or PS3? What's the hold-up with getting it on freesat? We don't know, but VieraCast feels like a natural home for it.
Apart from the unfulfilled potential, we do think VieraCast is a pretty sweet service. It's attractively styled and is very easy to use. It's like a more flexible version of digital teletext, with the option to be even better. Oh -- it really needs a Twitter app too.