Since a report appeared in The Verge over the weekend about a new Google initiative called "Android TV" I've been puzzling over the question of whether the world (or even Google) really needs this device. Ordinarily I'm all for innovation, but the (admittedly preliminary) description of Android TV, makes it awfully hard to understand Google's bet here, especially as the momentum and adulation for Chromecast keep growing.
No doubt, Google's primary motivator is to gain the upper hand in the biggest gold rush since the advent of the Internet itself: ownership of the digital living room. Broadband's presence in the living room is getting stronger each day, putting everything up for grabs: how viewers will interact with programming and TVs, where their finite subscription dollars will be allocated, how advertising will work and importantly, which devices will control the experience. With tens of billions of dollars already sloshing through the living room, it's a massive market opportunity that appeals to giant companies as well as startups.
I'm pleased to present the 221st edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. This week we assess Amazon's new Fire TV connected device. As I wrote earlier this week, I see it as a double, but not a home run, and I further explain some of my main points.
Colin believes Amazon also over-stated the problems with existing connected TV devices in its effort to differentiate the Fire TV. Those 3 differentiators were Fire TV's openness, improved search and better performance. Colin only sees the performance as meaningful, with Fire TV's new "ASAP" content pre-loading feature - but with the caveat that it has to actually work (and not just for Amazon's own video).
We also discuss Fire TV's gaming features, which Amazon is clearly betting on, though we're not quite certain exactly where they'll fit in the market. On the positive side, Colin likes how Fire TV will prioritize searched-for content by price and availability.
Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 9 seconds)
Among the apps launched this week on Amazon's new Fire TV was the ACC Digital Network, a joint venture between Silver Chalice and Raycom Sports. ACC Digital Network is the Atlantic Coast Conference's multimedia destination featuring live streaming and other original programming. In addition to being online, it also recently launched on Apple TV.
To get up and running quickly on Fire TV, SportsLabs, a division of Silver Chalice, turned to 1 Mainstream, a platform for deploying HD video services on a variety of connected TV and mobile devices that launched last December. I caught up with Rajeev Raman, 1 Mainstream's CEO (and previously head of product at Roku), to learn more about how the company is helping content providers quickly build and deploy apps.
The march of content providers into the living room is getting yet another boost as JW Player, whose video solution is used by thousands of content providers, will support Chromecast. JW Player's CEO Dave Otten and creator Jeroen Wijering told me yesterday that the beta is underway with 5 different content providers implementing JW Player with Chromecast support, which will go live over the next several weeks.
JW Player will support VAST-compliant advertising, so that video ads will be viewable on TVs when playing through Chromecast. As this demo video shows, JW Player has also enhanced its ad implementation by enabling companion banners to appear on the device driving the Chromecast, so users can engage with the advertiser as their video ad plays on the big screen.
In baseball terms, Amazon's new Fire TV connected device will be neither a home run nor a strikeout; more likely it looks like it will be a solid double. Amazon deserves credit for some clever new features that will distinguish the Fire TV in an increasingly crowded connected TV landscape. But, by beefing up its specs - and therefore its own costs - Amazon has priced the device relatively high at $99. That in turn will likely limit its appeal mainly to certain segments of the market: families with younger kids and/or casual gamers.
Of course a connected TV device from Amazon has been long-rumored and highly expected since it complements so well numerous other initiatives such as Prime, Kindle, Prime Instant Video, Amazon Studios, etc. How exactly Amazon would execute on the opportunity was debated. Would it roll out an inexpensive stick or more polished box (or both)? Which devices would it compete directly with? What content strategy would it use (free! pay-TV!)? And what features would differentiate it?
Expanding on their existing partnership, Bonnier, one of the largest U.S. magazine publishers, and Net2TV, a startup connected-TV media company, will create 30-minute TV programs for Bonnier titles "Cycle World" and "Saveur." The companies have also renewed the current "Popular Science" program. All of the programs are built by curating short-form videos into shows that are available on Net2TV's Portico TV service, on millions of connected TVs.
As I've written in the past, Net2TV's model is to create ad-supported TV-like experiences using high-quality short-form videos from branded partners. The videos are curated and assembled into 30, 60 and 90-minute programs, often accompanied by hosts who help create a narrative. The programs are typically updated on a weekly basis for now, with more frequent updates planned in the future. The Portico service is delivered from the cloud, accelerating the scaling of its integration with multiple connected TVs and devices.
I'm pleased to present the 220th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. First up, we discuss the WSJ report from earlier this week that Apple and Comcast may be collaborating in some way to deliver video through a "managed service" from Comcast. Neither Colin nor I can understand why Comcast would enable anything in its territory that would be remotely competitive with its own video services, but since the WSJ was thin on details, we don't know enough yet to fully judge.
We're also dubious about the fit for Apple given the company's emphasis on global scale for its products and also its premium positioning. And we're both struck by the regulatory red flags a "managed service" would raise for Comcast, at the very time they're trying to gain approval for the TWC deal. More of my thoughts are here.
We then turn quickly to Aereo's Supreme Court filing this week. As expected, it paints the case as being about cloud services in general, not just copyright specifically. We agree it's a clever strategy that positions Aereo as pro-innovation and pro-consumer, making it harder for the Supreme Court to rule against Aereo this summer.
Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 58 seconds)
The Wall Street Journal reported last night that Apple and Comcast are discussing a partnership for Apple to launch a streaming TV, VOD and DVR service, including dedicated Comcast bandwidth (a "managed service" as opposed to one delivered with typical "best efforts").
On the surface, it's a sexy-sounding deal, especially for those who have long-harbored a vision of Apple moving beyond its modest Apple TV device. However, scratch the surface just a little and you'll quickly find many reasons to be skeptical anything will result. Here are my top 5 (I'm sure there are others as well):
I'm pleased to present the 219th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia, who was at the TV Connect conference this week in London. First, up, Colin shares some of what he heard from Francisco Varela, YouTube's global director of platform partnerships. Francisco talked about YouTube taking back development of their apps from Smart TV manufacturers so users can have more immersive experiences.
We then turn our attention to the settlement of the Google-Viacom litigation, over alleged copyright infringement by YouTube, dating to 2007. It's legitimate to ask if there was ultimately any point to the litigation. As I explain though, I agree that at a minimum the litigation accelerated the development of YouTube's Content ID system which has been very valuable to the entire ecosystem.
Last, we also discuss new research from Vubiquity which found that 58% of respondents said they're interested in downloading TV shows and movies included in their pay-TV subscription. This echoes my bullishness on TiVo Stream's download feature which I've found extremely useful.
Click here to listen to the podcast (19 minutes, 24 seconds)
According to a new study by Vubiquity, 58% of consumers would like the ability to download to their tablets TV shows and movies that are included in their pay-TV subscriptions. Of these, 63% would be willing to pay $1 to $5 to stream or download content. Respondents who expressed interest in downloading already consume proportionately more content across all platforms.
Vubiquity believes a downloading feature offers a big opportunity for pay-TV operators to differentiate themselves. Coincidentally, Will wrote back in October, 2012 how he believed TiVo Stream's download feature was a killer app. In late 2012 Comcast introduced a similar feature for certain TV shows (there are rights issues involved in deploying this more broadly).
These are highly uncertain times for global TV manufacturers. As IHS reported last week, sales of TVs declined by 6% in 2013 to 225.1 million units, following a 7% contraction in 2012, creating first ever back-to-back down years for the global TV industry. IHS pinned the blame for the declines mainly on market saturation and difficult economic times.
To rebound from the doldrums, TV manufacturers are betting heavily on consumers upgrading to 4K TV and Smart TVs. 4K, or Ultra-High Definition TV, has significant challenges with content availability, price and picture quality differentiation it must overcome to go mainstream. Meanwhile, although the price premium for Smart TVs has shrunk, bringing them closer to conventional HDTVs, their value proposition is still not widely understood by consumers and access to online content is still very limited.
In this already difficult climate, another challenge for TV manufacturers is now taking shape from a whole new category of devices: low cost streaming sticks.
As people splinter their video viewing across multiple devices, reaching them across screens with video advertising has become has become a growing imperative. Still, TV is tried and true, and the tools for planning, managing and measuring cross-screen campaigns are not yet widely understood.
To help illustrate early success of cross-screen advertising, Videology has published 4 case studies on different clients who augmented their TV campaigns with online video buys, resulting in significant improvements to audience reach, brand awareness, offline sales and market share.
Verizon Digital Media Services has unveiled research finding that 59% of millennials' video viewing is now done on-demand, with 41% on live TV. Online accounts for 34% of millennials' viewing, with DVR following at 15% and on-demand at 10%. Non-millennials have the opposite viewing pattern, with 59% of their viewing still live TV, next is DVR with 17% with online and on-demand following at 12% each. Verizon found that 64% of millennials said they subscribe to an OTT video source, compared with 33% of non-millennials.
Since Comcast announced its plan to acquire Time Warner Cable, there have been a number of articles about how broadband is really the main driver of the deal. No doubt broadband is very important, but Comcast still believes there's a lot of life left in its video service. To that end, the company has invested heavily in its X1 set-top box platform.
X1 is a hybrid box, delivering video via traditional "QAM" technology, while including a guide and other interactivity/content via web-based IP technology. Comcast said that X1 played a significant role in Comcast adding subscribers in Q4 '13, for the first time in 6+ years.
I've had an X1 since July, 2012, and to give a sense of its potential, I've shot an 11-minute demo of how X1 handles the NBC Olympics "Live Extra" authenticated app which is tightly integrated with its Xfinity on Demand service for highlights. First, for a little context, I show how "Live Extra" and the NBC Olympics apps work on an iPad.
It looks like Apple will be the first casualty of the Comcast-TWC deal. Just yesterday Bloomberg reported that Apple was negotiating with TWC for it to become the first pay-TV operator to make its programming accessible in a new, upgraded Apple TV device. Assuming the report is accurate (and who knows, given the spin game TWC was playing to rebuff Charter's bid), it's pretty fair to say that Comcast will have no interest in Apple getting its nose under the TWC tent.
I'm pleased to present the 213th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia. Today we focus on Amazon, which is already an important player in video, and is poised to become more so. Among the topics we discuss:
- plans to increase the price of its Prime service (and the role of expensive video licensing in driving this)
- the possibility video could be split off from Prime and become a more pure competitor to Netflix and others
- the many roles that video advertising could play as part of a new deal with FreeWheel
- why an Amazon connected TV device (widely rumored) would be highly strategic
- whether Amazon will enter the pay-TV business (as has also been widely rumored)
- the role of Amazon's original online productions
All in all, Amazon is circling the video space in many different ways, with potential to be quite disruptive. It's still very early in the game for Amazon and 2014 could be a big year. We'll see how it plays out.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (22 minutes, 32 seconds)
I'm pleased to present the 212th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
Earlier this week, Roku CEO and founder Anthony Wood, who I interviewed at NATPE, described his long-term vision for Roku to replace pay-TV operators' set-top boxes. Anthony believes that as online video apps become more prevalent, and pay-TV operators want to seamlessly offer them, the logistics for doing so will be so complex, that alternative approaches like using Roku, will become more attractive. Colin and I debate the pros and cons of this vision.
Then Colin walks us through Comcast's stellar Q4 '13 results, announced earlier this week. Of particular note, Comcast added video subscribers in the quarter, the first time in over 6 years. Colin has crunched the numbers and concludes that Comcast will likely have more broadband subscribers than video subscribers by mid-to-late 2014, a stunning development. We explore what this means.
Listen in to learn more!
Click here to listen to the podcast (21 minutes, 11 seconds)
Roku CEO Anthony Wood shared company updates and his views on the broader video market in an interview with me at NATPE in Miami Beach on Monday. 2013 was a strong year for the company with 8 million cumulative units sold to date (about 3 million in 2013). Roku delivered 1.7 billion hours of video in 2013.
Interestingly, Anthony said that sales accelerated when Chromecast was introduced. He cited the trio of Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast as now dominating the connected TV device space, each with a relatively well-defined prospective customer.
Beachfront Media announced earlier today that its Beachfront.iO video ad platform has been extended to deliver ads to connected TVs/devices including LG, Samsung, Google and Roku. This means that video content/app providers can tap into ads from multiple sources and manage them across smartphones, tablets, desktop and now connected TVs within one dashboard.
Primarily the extension allows content/app providers to maximize their revenues, improve targeting and achieve better time to market. Frank provided more details in a short video interview today at NATPE, see below.
I'm excited to be hosting a one-on-one interview with Roku's CEO and founder Anthony Wood at NATPE in Miami next Monday, Jan. 28th. Anthony is one of the true visionaries in the online video / connected TV device world.
Among the topics on my list to discuss with him are Roku TV (launched with Hisense and TCL at CES last week), how Roku owners actually use the device since there are now over 1,200 channels to choose from, the status of Roku's work with pay-TV operators and whether transactional VOD will play a bigger part in Roku's future. I'm sure we'll also discuss larger industry trends like cord-cutting, the connected TV device landscape, Smart TVs, TV Everywhere and the role of mobile devices.
That's a long list, but what do YOU think I should ask him? Send me suggestions via email or leave a comment!