There's no doubt connected TV devices will be one of the hottest gifts this holiday season, as online video continues to evolve from an early adopter desktop behavior to a mainstream living room experience. But even the prices of connected TV devices plunge and consumers' enthusiasm builds, the space continues to be marked by the drip, drip, drip inefficient process of one-off additions of video apps to specific connected TV devices.
In fact, if you follow the market closely, you'll notice that seemingly each week there are a handful of announcements regarding a specific video app (or group of them) becoming available on a certain connected TV device(s). For example, in last week's news, Amazon Instant Video became available on TiVo Roamio/Mini devices, and HBO Go became available on Xbox One.
This dynamic is the result of each connected TV device having its own proprietary environment that video (and other) apps need to be developed for. Because content providers have limited resources, they're forced to prioritize which devices to target and what the rollout schedule will be. Complicating things further, the scorching rate of mobile video adoption often puts iOS and Android development ahead of connected TV devices in the pecking order.
This model differs dramatically with the web, where a set of underlying technologies for the most part allow content providers to develop once and be broadly available across major browser like IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Think about how odd it would be, for example, if you saw a content provider like the NY Times trumpet its availability on Chrome!
But this is very much what's happening in the connected TV device space. Tying content to devices means increased upfront and maintenance costs for content providers. It also means that consumers need to sort through the confusion when trying to decide which device to purchase, perhaps finding out later that an app they'd like isn't available. This creates a huge advantage for those video apps - like Netflix in particular - that have invested heavily to have the broadest possible device footprint.
There are solutions, like Beachfront Builder, which help create and deploy video apps across multiple devices. However complexities like TV Everywhere authentication, preferences for custom UIs, various business models and wide-ranging ad policies all mean that for many content providers doing a custom device-by-device build is considered necessary, again requiring significant resources.
We now have 3 of the Internet's biggest players - Apple, Google and Amazon - plus various CE companies such as Samsung, Sony, LG and others, plus standalones like Roku, all vigorously competing in connected TV devices. Yet to enter the fray are major pay-TV operators who are rolling out IP-compatible set-tops (e.g. Comcast's X1) which are also capable of running video apps (which I believe will become increasingly strategic for them as well). On the other side, there's an explosion of video apps just ahead, as HBO, CBS and others begin to plant their OTT stakes for direct-to-consumer access across devices.
Regrettably, it's hard to see how any kind of standards or cooperation will emerge any time soon which would unlock a gusher of video apps onto connected TV devices. In short, the current chaos will likely remain the norm for some time to come.