The biggest players in technology have been vying for your living room (otherwise referred to as the “10ft interface”) for years now. The only problem is that no one has gotten it quite right yet, but the device and software manufacturers may not be to blame.
As Steve Jobs clearly pointed out at a recent conference, the problem isn’t really with the hardware or software of 3rd party devices (such as an Xbox 360, AppleTV, Boxee Box etc) but the problem actually lays with the Cable and content distributors. The business model that these companies deploy make the cable box a free or incredibly low cost part of the business and have thrust the competition out of a good “go to market” strategy.
We all know that the software on Cable boxes is beyond terrible and is in fact probably the worst UX I have ever seen. The devices are slow, the results laden with advertisements, multiple versions of a show (HD or SD?) and programming comes around a clock set by the networks. Obviously On-Demand content helps alleviate this problem some, but there is more to it than that.
What about content variety, being able to watch it when you want to? Are you willing to “pay to play”, or are you willing to take a barrage of advertisements to offset the cost to view content? What about some kind of happy medium where your cost is reduced, but you also get less ads? These are all potential ideas that are being implemented, but lets dive a little deeper.
There are essentially 3 accepted business models for approaching this pain in the marketplace, each filled with heavy hitting players. Here are some of the notable ones:
Advertisements – Good content, zero price
In a world where consumers are trained that there IS such a thing as a free lunch due to services like Napster, BitTorrent and others we have come to demand access to high quality content without paying a penny. Google did a great job delivering free text based information to the masses through their AdSense program that allowed content producers to display advertisements against their content in hopes of
tricking customers visitors finding value in ads so they could get paid.
Most people thought that premium video content had finally arrived after Hulu launched with a ridiculous name, backing of the major studios (thanks to their heavy equity investments) and high end advertisements pre-roll and interruption clips that were clickable and offered up other metric advantages over traditional ads.
Pay-to-Play – Top notch content, top notch price
As advertisers were weary to plunk down large media buys for sites like Hulu in a diversified way (that the studios would accept), we saw video content from the likes of Apple (a la iTunes) and Amazon race in to fill the void of people who were looking for a wider variety than what was offered by Hulu or perhaps would rather pay a hefty penny to avoid the annoying interface that advertisements offer. Both services now have accompanying hardware to deliver their content to our favorite screen – the TV.
These models have simply followed in the footsteps of dvd and blu-ray sales but are more agile in that they can deliver on a per episode basis, are without a physical disc and other common digital only advantages. Microsoft has been another player in this space that has been innovating without nearly as much press through their Zune Video service. Delivering fantastic 1080p video with 5.1 surround sound through a well established user base of Xbox 360 users.
Hybrid – Minimal annoyance, premium content on demand
The 3rd category is both the newest player to the game and the oldest at the exact same time. We are used to paying for content with advertisements baked in (cable, satellite etc), but now Hulu Plus hopes to take this model with on-demand into more places and with less storage concerns. Hulu Plus works with iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), select TV’s (apps), blu-ray players and soon even the Xbox 360. The catch? It’s $10/month and still has advertisements. However, for that compromise you get beautiful HD quality content, the entire current season instead of just the last few selected episodes.
But what about the newest player? Google TV holds intense promise because it tries to take the best points from each model and mesh them together. In fact, Google isn’t trying to be in your second input from a second box, they want to go for the gold be in your first input as the information source and/or as an overlay to your current video stream. They bring “the whole web” to your favorite screen and if you are using Dish Network you can even schedule DVR recordings etc right from the Google interface. Existing Android Apps will work in the environment which leaves a wide open door for rapid innovation.
Great, but when?
Google TV lands sooner than you think with an expected delivery date of October 11, 2010. Like Hulu Plus, we can expect it to be on select hardware launch partners (which looks like a Sony TV and a Logitech Harmony box for existing setups). We can expect however, given the nature of android based software and development to see this great software on a ton of different devices and ecosystems. How do you think Apple, Amazon and Microsoft are going to respond to this new player? Video of the Google TV features below.