The History of Web Television

In today's thriving Internet marketplace, it seems that merging the web with television would be a natural blend, but, not so many years ago, web television wasn't even on anybody's radar. Now, the idea of having television service and Internet access together is something today's audience just takes for granted.


In 1996, The Wall Street Journal announced the coming of Web Television. The idea behind it was to incorporate the visual quality and componentry of a television with the Internet access of a computer. At that time, much of what computers did on the Internet was exchange text and still pictures because dial-up modems were ineffective for conveying the large packets of information required in sending online video data. The earliest version of WebTV was predominantly the brainchild of Steve Perlman, Bruce Leak and Phil Goldman, and the WebTV module was designed as a set-top box that resembled a cable or satellite receiver box that would sit atop your television set and connect to the Internet through phone lines.


It did not take long for the computer industry leaders to see the tremendous potential of such an innovation, and, after very brief negotiations, computer software giant Microsoft bought WebTV. The advantages they saw for WebTV were that busy viewers, facing more and more demands on their time, could make better use of that time if they wanted to multi-task while using their television. Viewers could check their email, surf the net, watch video and listen to streaming audio, all at the same time, all through their television sets. In 1999, to compete with Microsoft, America Online decided to wade into the marketplace, too. As the equipment evolved, MSN added a hard drive, a wireless keyboard, and broadcast television access. They showed dominance in the marketplace.

Some of the earlier WebTV users dropped off their usage because the 'Classic' and 'Plus' WebTV receivers still required dial-up modem access. The name shifted from WebTV to MSN TV.  But, MSN continued to make advances with MSN TV that had more contemporary access modules and allowed users more opportunity to chat, create their own websites, and shop online more easily. Users can contact a chef from a cooking show while they're watching the show. They can shop for clothing for their next vacation while they download videos showing them where they plan on going and what the weather will be like there.


In 2004, Microsoft introduced their newer model, the MSN TV2, and, like the earlier WebTV, it requires a subscription. The MSN TV2 has more in common with the personal computer, too, but it requires no additional software to purchase. It is no longer sold by Microsoft, but they still offer the subscription service.

What started as WebTV, and is now called MSN TV2, allows viewers to interact with the Internet with the convenience of a television screen.