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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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