The Future of TV Isn’t Apps. We Need All Our Channels in One Place
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- January 2nd, 2014
How we watch TV has changed completely. Since the launch of Apple TV in 2006, companies have introduced a string of over-the-top (OTT) streaming Internet video devices such as Roku, Chromecast, PlayStation, Xbox, etc. The most recent offering–Amazon’s Fire TV–was breathlessly reviewed as the potential ‘holy grail’ of set-top boxes. This is wrong.
When we speak of the true ‘holy grail’ of content and entertainment, consumers want the ‘Three W’s’: whatever content they want, whenever they want it, wherever they want it. To get this, the distributor needs to control the device and the content services. Controlling a set-top box (or Smart TV, where the OTT is built in) alone doesn’t do this.
Gary Myer was vice president and one of the founding executives of DIRECTV in the U.S. and Latin America. Following DIRECTV, he was president of Sony Digital Media of America, where he directed U.S. efforts in digital satellite, cable and Internet products. He is currently a strategic advisor to the digital media industry. He would like to thank Rick Erikson for his help in the preparation of this article.
What We Want
Consumers don’t care where or how they get their content. They don’t care if it comes to them via cable, satellite, broadband, wi-fi, or wireless. They also don’t care who provides the hardware (smart TV, set-top box, smartphone or tablet) to deliver the service that they want. They want an integrated, easy-to-use system to get their content. Period. This will include all the content currently available from the pay-TV operators, as well as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and even Yahoo.
If a viewer wants to see Suits, NCIS or Game of Thrones, they shouldn’t have to know whether it is carried by a USA, CBS or HBO app.
But if a viewer wants to see Suits, NCIS or Game of Thrones, they shouldn’t have to know whether it is carried by a USA, CBS or HBO app. Any additional step that is added to the process of getting to the program a consumer wants is a wasted step. It takes at least four steps to get from the Roku home screen to watching an episode of any program on Netflix, and that assumes you know what you want to watch. Then you have to start the process all over again to watch another program on another app.
Now imagine if each TV channel was its own app – maybe a dream scenario for a network hoping to have a direct relationship with their viewer, but a nightmare for consumer discovery of content. This is the key flaw of an app-based TV programming system.
A comprehensive entertainment service must be an aggregator and curator of content, on a neutral platform, that makes all content easy to search/navigate and select.
An app-based approach is the opposite of this. The just-released Amazon Fire TV doesn’t even recognize a user’s subscription to Netflix; the voice search feature only searches for content in the Amazon catalog. Although Roku now enables the centralized search of content across service providers, the navigation amongst all the apps is clumsy–because Roku doesn’t control the services.
Watching TV Does Not a TV Expert Make
Television distribution has many moving parts. None of these new OTT devices and services is comprehensive, let alone the ‘holy grail’ home entertainment service because right now they are all add-on services to existing pay-TV services.
None of the companies offering OTT services has any actual TV experience. Sure, Sony has a film studio and produces television content, but when it comes to its streaming services, the PlayStation group is driving this effort. They, like the rest of the company, are device-oriented. The insidious part of entering the Internet video field is that everyone watches television, so everyone thinks that they’re an expert at creating and developing the TV experience.
As I explained in a previous article, these OTT devices are all the same: They are simply enablers of services from mostly third-party service providers, some of which require a pay-TV subscription. Sure, Apple also connects you to its unique services, and Amazon does the same (each only serving their own purposes), but they all have a set of common third-party services: HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora, YouTube, etc.
There is no continuity or common functionality among and between these apps. As the name “app” indicates, they are each stand-alone applications that have their own functionality–like opening Word or Excel on a computer. This is not how an integrated home entertainment service should operate. The consumer’s experience has to be the primary consideration.
For the next generation of television the consumer product must be the service, not a device with individual content services added as an afterthought.
All this is not to say that the future of television will have no apps. Once the next generation television ecosystem platform is established on the web, of course there will be apps–add-on apps that complement an integrated and comprehensive programming service.
The Single Solution
Just imagine a web-based service that encompasses video on demand, subscription pay-TV channels, pay-per-view, ad-supported broadcast TV, and emerging internet-based content. Such an entity requires a centralized content aggregator and curator to become a neutral repository for movies and TV programs, stored in the cloud, and deliverable to televisions, tablets and smart phones. All that is needed is one ‘app’.
This requires bold disruption to the TV industry. But the current pay-TV operators are not disruptors. Recently, DIRECTV’s president commented about evolving to online video, “if you can, avoid cannibalizing your core business.” Unfortunately, the pay TV operators do not heed Steve Jobs’ advice: “if you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.”