Back in August, in "For Connected Devices - To Browse or Not To Browse, That is the Question," I described a split in the product approaches among connected devices makers - whether to include a browser or not. Including a browser means that the whole Internet is theoretically accessible, just like going online. This is the approach of devices like Google TV and boxee. Not including a browser is everyone else's approach (e.g. gaming consoles, connected TVs and Blu-ray players, Apple TV, Roku, etc.). With no browser in place, consumers only get access to the content the device maker has integrated such as Netflix, YouTube, Pandora, etc. To partially open up, some like Roku have begun offering an API to content providers.
But now U.K.-based Miniweb (a spin-off of BSkyB) is looking to render moot the browser debate by offering a clever new cloud-based services platform called "Woomi" which gives content providers an on-ramp to widespread availability on connected devices even when no browser is available. Speaking with Miniweb's CEO Jerome de Vitry and its founder/chief architect Ian Valentine recently, I was impressed with how well the company understands the problem it's trying to solve and the technical approach it's using to do so.
Miniweb recognizes the connected device makers increasingly want to differentiate their products with access to online content. The first phase of this has been getting the big guys like Netflix and others integrated. With relatively few content partners, that's been a manageable process. However, there are thousands of other online video providers to get on board, creating an insurmountable integration challenge for device makers already operating on razor thin margins. What Woomi does is aggregate all of these content providers (the "torso" and "long tail" providers if you will) and then serve them up in an easily navigable space.
Miniweb's first big device victory is with Samsung, which will offer a Woomi icon on the starting screen of all its Internet@TV connected devices (Miniweb also landed Vestel, Turkey's largest TV manufacturer in March). With the Samsung deal in hand (and others no doubt to follow), Woomi has become a credible partner for content providers who need to do little more than give Miniweb their MRSS feed and metadata in order for their content to appear in Woomi. They even get the ability to customize the look and feel of their UI (see this video for a demo). Woomi brings huge value to all the online video providers who have been longing to get a footing on connected devices, but haven't been able to get on the radar of the connected device makers due to their scarce resources.
For now Woomi's business model is mostly focused on advertising. Woomi looks to keep a small share of its content providers' ad inventory which it then sells. Woomi also enables the paid model, and keeps a commission on all rentals. In addition, Miniweb is looking to license the platform to smaller device makers who may want a white label solution for content aggregation. Miniweb has reduced the technical barriers for devices as well, requiring only a minimal hardware configuration.
If Woomi can expand its device footprint and gain lots of content, it could be a formidable middleman as the connected era takes off. One key challenge is that Woomi could have amazing content, but if users don't click on the Woomi icon they'll never know it or watch it. So there's a lot of consumer awareness-building work ahead. I was also a bit surprised that Samsung would empower a little startup to play such a potentially strategic role. One way Samsung mitigated its risk was by negotiating the right to carve out any Woomi content provider that it wants to and move them directly onto the home screen itself. Each time that potentially happens Woomi's appeal would be diminished a bit.
But that possibility is a long way off. While the browser vs. no browser debate rages, Woomi is positioning itself as a neutral third-party that brings value to all 3 constituencies - device makers, content providers and viewers. And Miniweb's message is clear: unlike a Google TV, for example, Woomi is not trying to bring an online experience to the TV, but rather to create a better TV experience by seamlessly incorporating online content into it. That's a subtle difference that could determine which connected devices succeed and which don't.
Note: Want to learn more about Miniweb and other connected and mobile devices? Come to the VideoSchmooze breakfast/panel on Dec. 1, "How Connected and Mobile Devices are Transforming the Video Landscape." Early bird discounted tickets now available.
VideoNuze is the authoritative online source for original analysis and news aggregation focused on the burgeoning online video industry. Founded in 2007 by Will Richmond, a 20-year veteran of the broadband, cable TV, content and technology industries, VideoNuze is read by executive-level decision-makers who need to get beyond the standard headlines and achieve a deep understanding of online video’s disruptive impact.