From Tablets to TVs: Navigating Platform Fragmentation

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[Michael Lantz will be speaking on the panel "From Tablets to TV: Extending the Reach of Content" next week at Streaming Media Europe in London.]

The world of TV is rapidly evolving, and over the past few years we have seen a proliferation of TV-centric devices being launched on the market. For all media companies this provides an opportunity to reach new consumers, but also the challenge of maintaining attractive user experiences and applications for multiple platforms. How can content providers succeed in a world of device fragmentation?

Technology Shifts Lead to Fragmentation

It is clear that we’re at the very beginning of a technology shift from passive content consumption on one device to a multi-device, interactive, on-demand experience. Even though every one of us would love to see a market standard emerge from day one, we tend to forget that in a period of rapid technology change and innovation, it is natural to see multiple technologies compete. This has been the case when every new major technology has been introduced, from cars and bicycles to cameras to computers, and will be the case with the launch of TV apps as well. Over time, typically when the market stabilizes, fragmentation will be reduced when industry or market standards emerge.

Which Standards Will Emerge for TV Apps?

Accedo works with all app platforms on the market. Not even we can clearly see the standards that will be adopted in this industry. There are very many standardization initiatives and in addition, we still see very powerful companies like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Adobe, and others that are promoting proprietary application solutions. The market is growing very rapidly at the moment, and from experience I can say that fragmentation will increase before it decreases. Every new generation of devices being launched on the market has new possibilities and limited backward compatibility, which leaves even more fragmentation if 100% consumer compliance is to be achieved.

Recommendations for Content and Service Providers

So, how should a content provider act in this emerging industry? One possibility is to wait until standards emerge and avoid any risks of investing in the wrong technologies. I think this is a mistake. History has shown us that the winners when new technology is introduced are the ones that embrace the new technology in a cautious and analytical way. You need to build your organization and learn from today’s trends to be a winner in the future. I believe that there are a number of key lessons for everyone trying to launch TV apps in the current market.

First, it’s about building knowledge and establishing a position, not about short-term revenues. Consumers have just now started to embrace the new technology and we can expect that it will still be some time before investments can be justified on a pure business case perspective.

Second, select the platforms carefully. Unless you are legally obliged to be on every platform, it normally doesn’t make sense to launch on all platforms on the market. In some cases it might be the largest brands that you want to launch on, but in some cases it might make more sense to launch on smaller, more niche, devices to have a higher discoverability and a better target group match. It’s often worthwhile to spend some time with the strategic analysis before introducing your first apps to the market.

Third, be prepared to adjust your app strategies over time. The likelihood that your first foray into Smart TV apps will be spot-on is quite low, and it’s better to create a flexible strategy with constant evaluation of performance and consumer usage. Spend resources on market analysis and business development to establish the relationships to make a better trend and consumer analysis than your competition.

Finally, create an application porting strategy. We normally recommend to use one platform to introduce new functionality. Once this functionality has been launched, you should have a streamlined process to move the same functionality to other platforms. If you have created a modular software architecture, you will get high application synergies and will be able to keep costs to a reasonable level, even if you launch apps on multiple platforms.

Application Standards of the Future

It is clear that five years from now, we will have hundreds of millions of Smart TV devices in the market, with a vast amount of applications on various application middleware. My personal belief is that it will be about 10 years before we see any real standardisation, due to the relatively slow replacement rate of consumer devices. However, we can already now see standardisation trends and some convergence happening. At the time of writing, HTML5 browsers have momentum, with several of the major consumer electronics companies introducing this technology for their various platforms. The HTML5 standard contains many features such as video playback and UI animations that will be attractive for TV-centric apps, but will of course not solve all requirements. It remains to be seen whether HTML5 will emerge as a true standardisation technology for TV apps over the next couple of years.  

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