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Summary:

Is too much choice a bad thing? LG’s recent entry into the smart TV space means at least 10 platforms are currently vying for consumer, developer and TV OEM attention. Since 10 is officially a crowd, let’s examine the implications of smart tv platform fragmentation.

tv

Talk about fast-moving markets. CES hadn’t even officially started this week when LG announced it was launching its own Smart TV platform. By my count, this means at least 10 platforms currently vying for consumer, developer and TV OEM attention.

Ten is officially a crowd, so with yet another smart TV platform in the wild, I tweeted this was a sign of a fragmented market. My tweet, however, caused well-known digital home blogger Alexander Grundner to ask, “what’s so wrong with choice?

He has a point. Choice is, by definition, better than no choice at all, particularly when we’re talking about creativity and new market evolution.

But is too much choice a bad thing? Certainly if you’re a resource-constrained developer, having to make a bet between 10 or so different platforms can be make or break decision. And the stakes are even higher for TV OEMs, where choosing a platform that fails could mean losing share in a hyper-competitive market.

And what about the platform players themselves? As we’ve seen with smartphones, in time, two to three platforms will see the majority of market share, while others will be forced to eat table scraps.

But all downsides considered, the alternative is still worse. As we saw with the connected living room space earlier this decade, lack of competition leads to lack of innovation. That end result is decaying platforms, as we’ve seen with Tru2Way and Microsoft’s Windows Media Center Extender.

And sure, what comes after fragmentation is consolidation and all its associated pain. But consolidation is a natural part of market evolution, and as we’ve seen with the HP acquisition of Palm in smartphones, sometimes consolidation can create more viable choices long-term.

So in the end, I have to say I agree with Alexander. Choice is good. Let’s buckle up and enjoy the ride.

To see my analysis of the implications of smart TV market fragmentation, check out my weekly update at GigaOM Pro.

Image source: flickr user Elsie esq.

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  1. This could change dramatically if/when Google and Apple add their marketplaces, as they already have a developer community in place thanks to their phones. I’m kind of crossing my fingers that web apps like those supported on Google TV and Boxee win out over distinct platforms. Should make for an interesting show as this all gets figured out.

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    1. I think Google has a very big vision for living-room centric apps, and ulimately they’ll do ok. Their biggest challenge is distrust among content owners, which is, in my mind, why they bought Widevine. Certainly will be an interesting 2011.

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      1. Apple has tried working with content owners for years.

        Steve Jobs being the biggest shareholder of Disney does help kick start things a little bit, but you always have companies like NBC trying to ruin it for everybody.

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  2. I suppose one way to sell more TVs is to put electronic hardware with a usable life of 2-3 years in a TV with a useable life of 5-7 years. Not exactly customer-oriented.
    For real choice, get a real PC – the Dell Zino-HD or Acer Revo R3610 looks great next to (or behind) the TV. These small HTPCs are quiet, low energy, and have HDMI output right to the TV. With Microsoft Media Center, Hulu, and Netflix, it is mighty good choice right out of the box.

    Marc Allan Feldman
    Director, Openivo, Inc.
    http://openivo.blogspot.com

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    1. @Mark – HTPCs are good for early adopters, but they just have not caught into the fatter part of the bell curve. They’ve been around for a long time and they just require too much work and too much shelf-space for the most consumer living rooms.

      I’m afraid for the mass market, its going to be newer, simpler appliance-like boxes. And ultimately, as we’re seeing now, direct integration into the TV is what will win the most converts for app markets.

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      1. @Michael – what you say has been true in the past, but is changing rapidly. I remember in the 1980s when the conventional wisdom was that PCs were for early adopters and would never be common in the home. User-friendly graphic user interfaces changed that. Openivo is working to develop new HTPC software to make the HTPC easier to use and more reliable than the cable box DVR. New HTPCs are smaller and more elegant than most set-top boxes. See my Acer Revo at:
        http://openivo.blogspot.com/2010/12/file-is-easier-than-stream.html

        I think the reason the market for Smart TVs is so fragmented is that none of them are desirable enough to predominate.

        Marc Allan Feldman
        Director, Openivo, Inc.
        http://openivo.blogspot.com

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  3. [...] no matter which platform they’re accessed from. The bugger, as Michael points out in his recent column on this topic, is the extra work developers need to put into supporting a variety of systems. Here I believe [...]

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  4. What makes googles stick out is their hdmi in. This makes it awesome to watch tv while browsing at the same time.

    PEople might state hdmi in is not as big as I am making it out to be but use it first before saying that.

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  5. It’s a good question, Mike. And from my perspective, I worry that fragmentation means less portability of content, and no portability of recommendation profile. As you know, my biggest concern is that as the number of content sources expands, how will users find anything? And if I have to train the living room tv, the bedroom tv, th tablet and the smartphone each separately, my entertainment profile becomes as fragmented as the content sources are.

    It will certainly be exciting to see how the offerings from providers and consumer demands line up.

    Richard Bullwinkle
    Chief Evangelist, Rovi

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    1. Richard – data and profile portability is one of the evergreen topics for discussion around cloud-centric solutions. Now that we’re seeing TV entertainment migrate there, its certainly going to be a bigger focus.

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  6. HTML will be the publishing standard for free ad supported streaming content, not Apps. Apps will complement HTML.

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    1. @Ramin – can you elaborate on why you think paid-content over the open Internet will NOT standardize on HTML (as I think you’re implying)?

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      1. I think paid-content will exist on the open internet AND through closed app systems. The app systems can offer more device specific customization and I suspect will have verified accounts making 1-click shopping easy.

        But Michael, my comment was directed at free ad-supported streaming content. And I strongly believe HTML5 will be the standard for the precisely the reasons you lay out in your article (i.e. Smart TV fragmentation and resource constrained developers). Reed Hastings agrees too. See clip from speech at NewTeeVee Live.

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  7. [...] to GigaOM Pro analyst Michael Wolf, there are now at least 10 different platforms for building smart TV applications, many of which have their own requirements for video formats and delivery mechanisms. That means [...]

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  8. [...] an increasingly fragmented TV app market. According to GigaOM Pro analyst Michael Wolf, there are at least 10 different TV app platforms to build for today, all of which are vying for developer [...]

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