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Are Smartphones the New TV OS?

Mari Silbey
2/29/2016

Despite efforts to the contrary, the market for a TV operating system is still as fragmented as ever.

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) introduced its new tvOS last fall, but has seemingly done little to nurture the platform or the developer ecosystem since. Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) is clearly pushing further into the TV space, but its focus has primarily been on new devices and original programming. Roku Inc. continues to make progress though new partnerships with both TV manufacturers and pay-TV operators, but it's perpetually on shaky ground because, well, it's not Apple or Amazon. (See Apple Brings tvOS to Apple TV and Roku Racks Up 7.6M in Monthly Active Users.)

And then there's Google (Nasdaq: GOOG).

Google is hedging its bets with the Android TV platform and the Chromecast streaming device. But while Android TV seems the more natural evolution of TV's on-screen interface, it's the Chromecast connection to smartphones that's piqued consumer interest. Now, according to a report by Variety, Google wants to take the casting approach a step further by embedding Chromecast functionality directly into TV sets. Specifically, Google has reportedly partnered with Vizio Inc. to build Chromecast features into Vizio TVs.

What an odd turn of events. Despite the opportunity to build a whole new foundation in the living room, Google seems to be finding it easier to bridge back to the mobile phone ecosystem rather than develop something tailor-made for the TV. And clearly it's not alone.


For more on TV market trends, check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.


As cited above, no company has cracked the code on a winning TV OS. This is in large part because pay-TV still dominates television viewing, and the operating systems in that market, like Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s X1, are largely closed ecosystems. (This issue, by the way, not hardware, is to me the biggest thing at stake in the Unlock the Box initiative. See 'Unlock the Box' Vote Is Just the Beginning.)

But it's also because the mobile phone OS market has already neatly sorted itself out. My apologies to Windows Phone and Blackberry fans, but the mobile world breaks down solidly into two camps: iOS and Android. Both Apple and Google have tried to extend those ecosystems into the newer connected TV environment, but momentum is clearly behind development in the mobile space. That's where the coveted millennial demographic spends its time, and where developers already have experience building software.

In an ideal world, maybe it would be better to have a purpose-built television OS. But in the real world, mobile may yet win the TV OS wars… or at least keep the television software market from consolidating a while longer.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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KBode
KBode
3/3/2016 | 4:03:14 PM
Re: Samsung...
I assume that if the FCC has its way and opens the set top box up to competition, you'd see an exponetial explosion in the amount of OS's and hardware circulating in the market (much to the chagrin of cable operators who net $20 billion in captive revenue annually from set top boxes).
danielcawrey
danielcawrey
3/3/2016 | 3:06:06 PM
Re: Samsung...
I truly expect to see more open operating systems in this space. It's just going to take more deals with content providers to bring entertainment to any device. Really, as the shift in pay TV occurs, we're going to see more and more that delivery will be to any device, at any time. That's the way consumers want it. 
KBode
KBode
2/29/2016 | 1:49:03 PM
Re: Samsung...
Yeah I'd heard nothing but nightmares about smart TV internals, so it really surprised me too. But the OS on these latest models while a bit slow to boot and still prone to crashes, actually managed to one-up Roku. That's in part because I think Roku rushed that Roku 4 (and its 747-sounding fan) to market. Some of what I'm experiencing are 4K early adopter issues.

And there was one day where my television tried to sell me a Chevy before I turned that bullshit off. Still, been rather impressed.
msilbey
msilbey
2/29/2016 | 1:08:56 PM
Re: Samsung...
That may be the first positive review I've heard of a smart TV OS. If that's the case, it would make sense to see the streaming box/stick market slide over the next few years as more consumers update their TVs. I wonder.
KBode
KBode
2/29/2016 | 1:02:12 PM
Samsung...
I have to say I had laughed off TV vendors' OS efforts. Then I bought a Samsung 4KTV, and found the "smart" internals actually better at streaming video than the new Roku 4. The latter had all manner of bugs with software like Plex, while the Tizen-based Samsung system -- with a few minor bugs -- worked pretty well. 
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