"If you think about a visual newscast, there are these wonderful visual cues that take you from one content to another," says Stephen Masiclat, director of New Media Management at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications. Over the shoulder graphics or even simple camera angle shifts or musical interludes can signal shifts between segments. If Guide can't get those nuances right, it could flatten some articles.
"It seems to me that's the single biggest problem facing this startup, is that everything is going to be the same," he says. "And that sameness is to the detriment of the content."
He also adds that not getting the avatars' voices right could work against some articles. If the voice can't capture sarcasm, that could sap the life out of stories from cheeky sites like Jezebel or The Awl.
If the technology is perfectable—and that's a big if—widespread adoption of text-to-video technology could mean yet another forced evolution for online journalists.
Looking at adaptation to the iPad provides an example. Writers have not been forced to adapt how they write for tablets, but journalism organizations have adapted how they present content: Quartz, the Atlantic's new business site, was designed specifically with mobile and tablet platforms in mind, and Gawker's recent redesign rendered it more tablet-friendly.
It's not a large step from wondering about tablet optimization to video optimization. In a world where sites like Guide were suddenly the norm, editors may for example start pressuring reporters to keep stories under 1,000 words, Guide's current maximum story length, to take advantage of the extra traffic. Writers may also feel compelled to write in the more brief, simple style required for broadcast writing than for online and print journalism.
Considering these concerns right now, before one small startup even unveils its product, may seem premature. Technology concerns aside, the company also faces the question of whether smart TV will catch on in a big way. Growth in smart TV consumption has been flat in North America thus far—a late-2012 from market research firm NPD showed that the continent had the lowest connected TV reach in the entire world, at 20 percent.
However, Laker firmly believes in the growth of smart TV. He adds that the app will be available in iTunes and Android Play stores in May; and partnerships with well-known news outlets mean mainstream adoption is only a matter of time.
"There's this promise we've been shown in movies like Minority Report and Total Recall, and so on, where the TV is effectively alive, that it's a artificial intelligence, you interact with it via speaking," he says. "That is going to happen. And I've never had anyone argue with me that that's not in the roadmap. Some people think it's 10 years out, some people think it's three years out. I think we're in the beginning of creating that process for people."