May 20, 2014

HTML5 Could Help App Developers Overcome Connected TV Fragmentation

Connected TVs: they’re most certainly headed for the mainstream, but their full promise may take a while to catch up with the TV install base. That’s mainly because the applications development landscape is highly fragmented, thanks to manufacturers’ penchant for creating proprietary operating systems and middleware. However, HTML5 could go a long way in rectifying the issue.

The adoption of connected TV devices is growing. According to recent research by The Diffusion Group, the number of broadband households with at least one connected OTT device in the home reached 63 percent as of January 2014, up 19 percent from January of 2013, when there was 53 percent penetration.  Those homes with connected devices own 1.6 of them on average. And according to NPD, “over 200 million connected TVs and attached content devices are expected in U.S. homes by 2015.”

A report from BI Intelligence on the connected TV landscape found that for now, streaming devices comprise the majority of connected TV functionality: Apple (News Alert) TV and Roku hold the largest market share for streaming devices. In 2013, Apple shipped eight million Apple TVs and Roku sold 4.5 million devices. However, BI believes that the distribution will shift to smart TVs as prices decrease and the television upgrade cycle shortens.

However, fragmentation is the main issue, regardless of how the streamed content gets to the big screen. Connected TV ecosystems don¹t have strong standards like online video, the interfaces are highly proprietary and, adding insult to injury, connected TV devices have diverse technical capabilities.

Writing for different formats for each type of endpoint results in a complex, expensive process that leaves content and media companies and their app developer partners facing tough decisions as to where to put their development dollars. But rather than requiring developers to code their apps and content for each separate platform, HTML5 is supported on every browser, and thus offers a “write once, run everywhere” option for developing content for Web-based devices beyond the traditional STB should TV-makers and media player providers embrace it.

Some already are: LG has taken its Linux-based WebOS platform for smart TVs and added an accessible HTML5-based development environment. Google (News Alert)'s Chromecast device also supports HTML5 as a development protocol. Roku has also embraced open platforms that allow developers a great deal of freedom to develop apps for their devices.

These two are more open-standards oriented than the rest of the pack (Samsung (NewsAlert) and Apple have notoriously betted on closed ecosystems, which follow a more careful curatorial approach). However, as smart TV apps become more of a differentiator for connected TV, others may swiftly follow suit in order to ramp up developer volumes quickly.

Despite platform fragmentation, HTML5 offers at least a faint hope for increased unification between connected TVs, just as it does on mobile, BI Intelligence said. And much of its uptake will depend on monetization approaches.

“How will developers and operating system operators monetize smart TV apps? Media downloads, subscriptions and – to a much lesser degree – advertisements will drive the dollars,” the firm said in its report. “Smart TV platform operators have begun experimenting with ads. Changes to the pay TV industry, namely cable and satellite providers, will also have a huge impact on the future of connected TV. It's now an open question as to how – and how effectively – cable providers will use their power to shape the future of connected TV.”

Edited by Alisen Downey


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