Archive for Technology adoption

From Replay to Roku

There were a couple of interesting stories in the past week on Roku and its CEO, Anthony Wood.

The first, published by MediaPost, discussed Anthony Wood’s history in ReplayTV and then Roku. I had not realized that the same person was behind both devices. Talk about having a good eye for the future! replayTV logoReplayTV, as some may remember, was TiVo’s main competitor when DVRs hit the market in 1999. Similar to the BetaMax versus VHS debate when VCRs emerged, ReplayTV was generally seen as superior to TiVo. But like the BetaMax, it quickly fell to the wayside. Of course, TiVo was never a big hit either – most consumers got DVRs packaged within their pay-TV set-top boxes – but it has managed to survive by licensing its software and leveraging its viewer data.


Wood then launched Roku in 2002. It has been far more successful than Roku logoReplayTV, leading the market in streaming video boxes even as tech giants Apple (Apple TV), Google (Chromecast), and Amazon (Fire TV) each entered the market. But like the DVR, the drawback of streaming boxes is that the value is in the software, not the physical box. One factor is that the margins on manufacturing boxes quickly drop as physical product is commoditized by multiple entrants. The other is that consumers prefer to reduce set-top boxes and move features as downstream as possible, preferably into the TV set itself.

The second article, from The Verge, discusses the ways Roku is trying to broaden its base away from relying on sales of their boxes and sticks. Wood admits that device sales do not cover Roku’s cost of doing business. These newer revenue streams include licensing their software to TV manufacturers to build directly into sets, selling advertising that is delivered to viewers of the various channels available through Roku, and the build-out of their own, ad-supported Roku Channel. More of a head-scratcher is their recent entry into the wireless speaker space – presumably a low-margin, crowded market.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

Wood’s track record certainly shows he’s had his crystal ball tuned to the right channel for two major TV developments in the past 20 years – DVRs and streaming. It behooves us all to see what he thinks is next – even if his business plans don’t always keep pace with his technology innovations.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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SKY skips the satellite dish; who’s next?

SKY TV logoAlthough this is international news, it also has ramifications for the US. Europe’s Sky satellite television service is going to offer its full range of channels via streaming. Not just a skinny bundle, but all of its offerings. Starting in Italy, then Austria, and later the UK, Sky subscribers will no longer need to have a satellite dish.

Numerous MVPDs have experimented with streaming offerings. in the US. While most notable of these is DISH’s Sling TV, these have typically been low-end or incomplete offerings that do not replicate the standard MVPD levels of service (for various reasons including cost and streaming rights). But this move by Sky – albeit in a different international market and regulatory environment – is a harbinger of the future.

It’s hard to conjure up a thought experiment that doesn’t point to all video content being delivered via the internet in the not too distant future. Although Sky is still mandating the use of its set-top boxes, MVPDs could likely completely do away with them and just focus on bundling and delivering internet and content.

Of course, this will cause even more disruption than we’ve already seen. Traditional MVPDs will try to transition to a new model where revenue streams from STB and remote control rentals are important. But the savings from not having to maintain and manage several makes and generations of STBs might make the financials more tolerable.

Consumers could get rid of one of the boxes connected to their sets. Satellite viewers wouldn’t be subject to rain or weather interruptions. And, in theory, the local cable monopolies become extinct since delivery by internet means regional MVPDs can become vMVPDs everywhere. Finally consumers may see strong competition for their pay TV dollar. We may see an outcome where we have some firms with cheap bundles competing against premium-priced bundles with superior interfaces. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Polishing the crystal ball

In 2004, I spoke at the NAB’s Futures conference and made the somewhat accurate prediction that in 15-20 years’ time we’d be watching TV just by Googling each program. I missed the detail that we’d actually be saying “Hey Google” or “Hi Alexa” first, but close enough. It may be still another five years before all the rights and technical hurdles are crossed, but I think this Sky move could signal the final set of nails in the traditional MVPD coffin before we move to an all streaming, 5G-enabled video paradise.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Neutrality is great… unless it isn’t

YouTube logo crossed outContinuing on from yesterday’s post about Amazon Echo is fresh news about those digital home assistants/smart speakers. We hear that Google will cut off access to YouTube from Echo Show devices. This is not just cutting off an app or skill, but literally cutting off access from the Show’s browser to the regular, public YouTube website. This could be a major setback for the Echo Show.

In contrast, there is positive news within the streaming media player space. Here, after a long period, Apple will finally make Amazon Prime available on Apple TV devices.

Firstly, this leads to an interesting observation. These companies that are so up in arms over net neutrality seemingly have no compunction to limit access to other digital services when it suits their business imperatives. While the Apple TV/Amazon Prime squabble is sometimes argued as a programming or app issue, the blatant blocking from Show of the public YouTube website by Google is much harder to defend.

Secondly, this whole scenario shows the potential difficulties in the marketplace of vertically integrated technology companies that act as device manufacturers, service providers, and content creators. How can devices, subscription services and stores all live together in a way that serves the consumer?

I first did research on digital media players in 2014, which at that time consisted of Roku, Apple TV, and Chromecast. Back then, it was evident that one of the advantages Roku had was its independence. Roku had all the leading streaming services because it didn’t compete against them. However, both Apple TV and Chromecast clearly left off some services that were competitive to their own offerings.

Serve the consumer, not your self-interest

As we stated back then, the consumer doesn’t care about the competitive forces at work. They just want to watch what they want, without worrying about switching between multiple devices to access content. Roku’s independence was a clear winner then and has contributed to its still-leading status in this space (and a very successful IPO). It will be interesting to see how a similar situation plays out in the digital home assistants/smart speakers space over the next few years, where a neutral party isn’t leading the market.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Echo Show ad doesn’t show all

Amazon Echo ad screenshot


Watching TV over the weekend, it was hard to avoid the new commercial for the Amazon Echo Show. Called “Piece of Cake,” its rapid-fire hard cuts throw a lot of Echo Show capabilities at the viewer in 55 seconds with little time to digest.

Going back and reviewing the ad, I was able to identify the following capabilities being commanded or shown in the background on the Show:

  • Play a music playlist
  • Video talk with Grandma
  • Manage to-do lists
  • Check weather
  • Ask a question – spell check, find pizza place
  • Dictation of text messages
  • Home security – show front door
  • Smart home – dim lights
  • On-screen video – instructions, news, kid’s programs

Featuring music at the top of the ad is well justified, as research my team and I did last spring for GfK show that the top use – by far – of an Echo/Echo Dot is playing or streaming music. Asking questions and getting weather are also popular although far less than music. Smart home and home security require additional connected devices, which may or may not be obvious to the viewer.

New for the Show are the video capabilities enabled by its built-in screen, such as requesting and playing video content, or talking to grandparents (remember when the same tactic was used when telepresence was the flavor-of-the-month a few years ago?). The video screen could also go a long way towards what we called “building trust” with these devices – that by playing back requests on-screen, it understood your question or what you were asking it to do.

Conspicuous by absence

Most fascinating is what wasn’t shown – any retail activity. A dad asks for the local pizza place but the Show did not ask him if he wanted to place an order. Nor is there any mention of ordering direct from Amazon or its voice-shopping partners. The GfK study found shopping via Echo to be well down the list of used capabilities, so that might be a reason. But ultimately isn’t driving overall Amazon sales the main purpose of all the Amazon tech that has been developed? An interesting choice by the Echo marketers.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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ATSC and CRE Futures

CRE logoThere is much good work that has come out of the Council for Research Excellence (CRE). Funded by Nielsen, but operating independently, the CRE explores the issues surrounding media audience measurement. Although participation on committees is limited to Nielsen clients, much of the output of the CRE is made freely available on the CRE website. This allows the industry at large to review the CRE’s work and to learn from it.

A recent series of recorded briefings for the very active Futures committee within the CRE has been posted. These discuss a number of topics, including addressability, ATSC 3.0, and Advertising 2020.

ATSC logoI found the NAB’s ATSC 3.0 briefing most interesting. It helped explain more about this new TV standard that’s been popping up occasionally in the news. In a nutshell, ATSC 3.0 will allow synchronization between a broadcast signal and a broadband connection to allow the equivalent of a fully digital, addressable, and interactive viewing experience. This sounds good for the viewer (supports 4K/UHD, can call up interactive elements or VOD from the broadcast screen) and the distributor (adds more side channels to each frequency, enables addressable ads and digital tracking of viewing).

Of course, there’s a “small” problem. The standard is not compatible with any current TV sets or receivers, not even that new 70″ 4K smart TV you’re buying for Christmas. Similar to the digital transition in 2009, you will either need a new set or some sort of converter box to use ATSC 3.0 if it goes mainstream. Based on my experience with research around the 2009 digital transition, it is hard to conceive of getting the entire stock of TV sets turned over yet again, or that stations will run both ATSC 1 and ATSC 3 simultaneously for the numerous years required for a natural transition.

A solution in search of a problem?

What may be even harder to conceive is why, in five or ten years, if a house is broadband enabled, they would still use a broadcast signal and not just stream everything. As Alan Wolk recently discussed in his TV[REV] blog, local broadcast stations that made sense in the 1940s and 1950s make little sense in today’s world where almost everyone has either pay TV or broadband.  I respect my friends at the NAB and their partners, but ATSC 3.0 has the whiff of a very complex, expensive solution to an increasingly obsolescent marketplace structure.

But that’s the purpose of the CRE Futures committee and its work, to gain better understanding of emerging technologies that will impact media and surface discussions about their implications.  Check it out!

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Revamping SportsCenter isn’t just a Snap

ESPN logoYesterday ESPN continued its evolution of its SportsCenter mothership by launching a version of SportsCenter on Snapchat. Battered by the dynamic changes in media over the past decade, SportsCenter has been the subject of much tweaking – minor and major – as ESPN tries to stem the audience erosion of its headline program.

Of course, two five-minute episodes a day on Snapchat doesn’t replace watching an hour’s worth of SportsCenter on TV, but it is a way to be more relevant to a particular demographic of young sports fans – helping fulfill ESPN’s mission to serve all fans.

Almost needless to say, the forces working against the classic version of SportsCenter started with the mainstreaming of internet use, and accelerated with the use of mobile apps and services. As with general news, the need for an overview of the day’s sports news was reduced by the ability of fans to get sports scores, news, and updates all through the day.

Coupled with all-day sports updates was the increasing personalization offered by digital services. Why sit through an hour’s worth of sports news to get a minute’s or two coverage of your favorite teams? Highly localized coverage of a city or of just a team meant one could just go straight to the wheat and forget the chaff.

These media-related changes were also compounded by cultural changes, in terms of expectations for talent diversity, talent “attitude,” and so forth that required updates to keep up with the times.

As with many things ESPN, most other TV networks/media properties would love to be in their position in terms of audience and revenue – the problem is ESPN set the bar so high in the past that market adjustments take on a relatively higher profile.

Serving the Fan

As for me? I’m a relatively big sports fan but I pretty much stopped watching SportsCenter regularly in the late ’90s. I still rely a lot on ESPN, but only for the teams and sports I like, and almost exclusively through the ESPN mobile app and what comes through my Facebook feed. ESPN is still carrying out its mission in my case – and its presence across today’s various permutations of TV, internet, mobile, radio, and print means it can still service most sports fans.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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Where the Internet pipes run dry

wireless modemAn article published last week by the Brookings Institution discussed the availability of wireline broadband in US homes. While it should be no surprise to people who track media in all homes, not just online ones, the report brings forward estimates that seven percent of Americans do not have any access to landline broadband (25+ MBps). An interesting flip side is that only 18 percent of Americans live in communities with both high levels of wireline broadband access and high (80+ %) subscription rates to such service.

Now, a few caveats need to be applied to these data. First, they are based on government-issued data from the FCC and the ACS, which are notorious for lagging the marketplace. Second, the findings completely discount people who use only mobile data services for Internet access – which I have found in past research to be a notable share of low-income and minority homes.

As one might expect, many of these underserved areas are rural counties, which are geographically large, low population density, and low affluence. This makes the cost to roll out wireline internet to each home financially difficult without government subsidy (which seems to be the agenda of the Brookings article). And, one could also argue that the rollout of 5G wireless data service in the near future will obviate the need for wireline internet altogether.

However, regardless of any limitations on the data, or what the future holds for 5G, the article and its report are still helpful to remind those of us in the “media bubble” that the streaming media revolution isn’t necessarily reaching everyone. As streaming to TV sets increases each year, there are still homes where it can’t happen because of lack of access, if not a lack of desire.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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