Where Nielsen sees 115.6 million televisions in United States households, Sheldon Laube sees 115.6 million frames for fine art. The former chief innovation officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers has launched a service for streaming paintings and photographs onto televisions.
Called Artkick, it uses your iPhone or Android phone as an art remote. After downloading the free app, users can select slideshows or static images to display on their smart televisions or through a streaming player like Roku. When they get tired of one image, they can just flip to another. "I had the Mona Lisa up on our TV for a while," Laube explains, "and I have to tell ya, after three or four days, I didn’t want to live with the Mona Lisa anymore."
Displaying a seemingly endless art collection through a digital screen is not a new idea. Bill Gates famously equipped his mansion with screens that could "call up" and display 50,000 famous paintings, founding a company called Interactive Home Systems to license content and build a similar system that could be sold to others. "It's possible that the systems Gates is testing will be found in the homes of the rich in less than a decade," proclaimed a 1991 article in The Seattle Times. For the most part, that never panned out. Interactive Home Systems morphed into Continuum and then Corbis, a premium stock photo site.
Digital frames arrived with the new millennium, but few have ever attempted to stock them with fine art.
It might be that many consumers who want art in their homes see it as a decoration, and that a harsh digital screen that changes colors on cue doesn’t look quite right on a Pinterest board. Or, as Laube would argue, it may just be that digital art display has always been an idea before its time—until now.
Today a 40-inch LED TV costs about $500, within the range of what it might cost to frame a painting of a similar size, and thanks to the prevalence of Wi-Fi and smartphones, most of Artkick’s target customers already have the equipment they need to set up the service. Unlike music, much of the best known artwork is safely within the public domain, which means Artkick can use it for free.
Eventually, Sheldon says he hopes to license copyrighted modern art that can play on premium channels, "like HBO for art," build an advertising business, and sell access to an ad-free service for a fee. Artkick is not pursuing the commission sales model that other art startups, like Artsy and Artsicle, have followed. Its business depends solely on people streaming paintings and photography onto their televisions.
Mona Lisa may be more impressive in person, but Laube doesn’t see why consumers would treat digital paintings any differently than digital music. "For every person who gets to go to a live concert, there are a million more who listen to music and enjoy it using an iPod and earbuds," he says. "For every person who can afford an original piece of art—whatever it costs, $1, $10, $1,000, $1 million—there are a million more who can get pleasure out of having that art in their lives."