• MLB.TV Comes to Roku; 3 Key Takeaways

    Roku has announced this morning that MLB.TV Premium subscribers will now be able to access the service on their TVs via the $99 Roku video player. MLB.TV joins Netflix, Amazon, and blip.tv programs already accessible via Roku. According to Brian Jaquet, Roku's director of corporate communications, who I spoke to last week, dozens of other partners will be added to the service by the end of '09. The MLB.TV integration is obviously an exciting value proposition for its subscribers and for Roku adds live programming for the first time.

    To go a level deeper than the headlines about the deal that you're likely reading elsewhere this morning, here are 3 key takeaways:

    1. Roku's textbook "Crossing the Chasm" marketing strategy could make it a big-time winner - I've long said that as remarkable as the growth in broadband viewership has been over the past few years, what's more remarkable is that virtually all of this viewership has occurred not on consumers' primary viewing device - the TV - but rather on computers. As such, the last and most significant catalyst in broadband video's evolution and for its disruptive power to be realized is broadband connections bridging to the TV, for the masses.

    The problem is that while avid market watchers and participants like you and me know what the above buzzword gobbledygook means, average consumers not only don't know, but they don't care. For technology marketers seeking to penetrate mainstream buyers, this is in fact the central challenge described in Geoffrey Moore's classic book, "Crossing the Chasm" (which I highly recommend if you want to understand the technology product marketing further). I have a lot of respect for Roku because it understands all of this and because it is following a textbook chasm-crossing marketing strategy tailored to the pragmatist mindset of its target market.

    Roku's strategy reads right out of Moore's book: piggybacking off popular existing brands (Netflix, MLB, etc.), focusing on the "whole product," pursuing niche applications first and presenting its benefits "face-forward" as Moore says (e.g. see Roku's home page that blares "50,000+ videos to watch. INSTANTLY"). By doing all of the above and also pricing low ($99) and keeping the product radically simple, Roku is speaking strongly to its prospects and minimizing their purchase risk (a critical barrier in mainstream technology adoption). All of this means Roku could be a big-time winner in the convergence race.

    2. Rapid technology changes are driving broadband video innovation - I asked Brian last week if Roku has any plans to add a hard drive to the box, which would allow both storage/downloading and possibly an ability to cache content for higher-quality delivery. His response, that "we believe streaming is robust enough to accomplish all of our objectives," dramatically illustrated for me how quick technology change is in the broadband market. I say this because just 6 short years ago, I consulted with Maven Networks, whose whole original value proposition was built around a desktop app for video downloading. The point of it was to work around streaming limitations to offer content providers and users a breakthrough experience. Streaming technology advances have quickly and completely eradicated Maven's whole initial reason for being.

    This example illustrates how broadband market participants must never accept today's technologies as the defining parameters of future services (or as a wise CTO mentor of mine used to say, "Never fight technology progress. It's relentless and it will always win."). I try to constantly remind clients and other industry colleagues that it is crucial to understand the strands of technology progress - where key challenges lay, how quickly they might be resolved, what motivations are at work in fueling or stymying progress. What Roku is doing today would have been impossible just 5 years ago. The same goes for YouTube, the iPhone, etc, etc. To succeed in broadband it is crucial to acknowledge current technology limitations, but simultaneously look beyond them and stay aligned with technology's relentless progress.

    3. A major video industry PR battle for consumers' hearts and minds is about to explode - As players like Roku bring well-loved brands like Netflix, Amazon and MLB to the TV, the degree of consumer awareness and interest in convergence or "over-the-top" services is going to grow considerably. It will be increasingly common to go to a cocktail party and hear 2 neighbors carry on about how cool it was to watch this show, or that game, or this movie, all without their incumbent video service provider involved. To be sure "cord-cutting" is not going to skyrocket any time soon, but what is going to happen is the kind of buzz-building that can lay the groundwork for major future change (e.g. remember when you first started hearing about how fast or accurate this new thing called "Google" was? Pretty soon everyone was using it for search).

    Cable companies in particular know this, and are preparing an all-out response with TV Everywhere. I've been critical of Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes's hyping of TV Everywhere, though I'm beginning to appreciate more why he's doing it. The cable/satellite/telco ecosystem must not only stay relevant in the coming convergence era, they must remain consumers' preferred providers. The money at stake is in the tens of billions of dollars. All that means that as consumers we should anticipate a dramatic increase in the decibel level for promotion of various video alternatives. A pitched PR battle for our hearts and minds lies ahead.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.