There is increasing concern that unless Connected TV manufacturers can rationalise the apps development environment, which is currently very fragmented between brands and even devices, content owners and other publishers will turn their backs on this distribution medium, at least temporarily. The most prominent warning so far was issued by JosÃ¨ Alberto Pascole, Head of Operations and Infrastructure Management at the Portuguese cable operator ZON Multimedia at ANGA Cable last week, when he declared: â€œIf the Smart TV world does not provide some standardisation, it will die.â€ But his is not a lone voice.
Jean-Marc Racine, Managing Partner at Farncombe, a technology consultancy with expertise in Hybrid Broadcast Broadband (HBB) and content security, among other things, also issued a warning to the connected TV device makers recently. â€œThe connected TV technologies are not very different but they are not the same, so there is a silo situation and a broadcaster has to spend a fair amount of money to bring services to all the TV sets. Because it is very fragmented, it is very difficult for them to reach a decent share of the TV sets available.
â€œBroadcasters can barely afford to have their services on connected TVs and that must change because TV is in competition with the Apple iPad. The TV industry is at a turning point where it has to decide if it wants to provide versatile devices for streaming services or a display.â€
At Connected TV Summit in May, Daniel Danker, General Manager, Programmes & On-Demand at the BBC, described the degree of fragmentation between different manufacturers as â€œan absolute disasterâ€. At least his company has found a way to overcome the burden of developing the BBC iPlayer app over and over again, using an abstraction layer to reduce the customisation needed, but this kind of technology, based on years of experience, is not available to everyone.
At YouSee, the Danish cable operator, the effort involved in developing a VOD service for Smart TVs, when combined with the reach gained, means the company will now limit its efforts to working with three television manufacturers in the medium-term. The company has decided that Smart TVs alone are not enough to satisfy its off-net strategy and it is now considering whether it should bring its own IP, adaptive bit rate streaming device to market.
Anders Blauenfeldt, Senior VP Development at the company, told Videonet earlier this year that he wants to see Smart TV manufacturers encourage higher connection rates but also rationalise their development environments. â€œWhat we would like is a completely standards-based set-up, perhaps using HTML5, so that one implementation works everywhere,â€ he explains.
The idea of â€˜develop once, publish everywhereâ€™ may be too much to expect but the current situation, which often means developing again for every Smart TV model, is intolerable for some. Pascole at ZON complained that his company has developed an app for one model of LG connected TV but has to develop an app again for a different model of LG television. Then if you want to have an app on Samsung Smart TVs you have to repeat the process again.
â€œWe are already making an effort to be present on iOS and Android devices and that requires a lot of work and if you have to multiply that effort for different TV brands it becomes unmanageable,â€ he said. â€œThere is no way that Smart TV can move forwards if there is not standardisation.â€
There are signs that the situation is improving, however. Dan Saunders, Director, Content Services at Samsung, says that that from an apps development point of view his company has reached stable ground. â€œWe are adding new features and tools to the software development process but the underlying architecture is fundamentally stable.â€ The growing experience within Samsung and its apps developer community means the learning curve is no longer as steep for anyone. â€œWe are definitely at that point where apps are opening up to more people. The time and cost needed to build apps for Smart TV is coming down and will fall significantly,â€ he predicts.
LG is also promising some stabilisation in its platform. â€œWe are already seeing improvements for apps developers. There is a robust ecosystem of developers that has sprung up and the cost of developing apps across a number of platforms has already fallen considerably,â€ comments Stacey Seltzer, Head of Smart TV, UK & IE, at LG.
LG is going further. The company is part of the â€˜Smart TV Allianceâ€™ with Philips and Sharp, companies who cannot compete with the scale of Samsung on their own. These device makers are looking to provide a common apps development environment that makes it easier for content owners and platform operators to justify the development effort against the reach achieved. They are all working on a converged SDK (Software Development Kit) that harnesses open standards like HTML5, CE-HTML and HbbTV.
There are other initiatives that will make life simpler. Netrange provides a common apps portal and SDK for content providers who want to publish apps to multiple brands of Smart TVs, including for Loewe, Sharp and Vestel models. And TV App Agency offers what it believes is the worldâ€™s first commercially available compiler that enables developers to create native TV apps for many devices using a single development engine. The company says it can develop TV apps for five or more connected TVs in a fraction of the time it would take using each of the native SDKs from the device manufacturers.
These kinds of efforts could become more important. It look as if apps rationalisation and standardisation is going to move to the top of the agenda for people involved in connected TV and multi-screen TV and this issue will probably stay there for a while.
This story is an excerpt, with updates, from Videonetâ€™s latest report: â€˜Pay TV and apps: opening the doorsâ€™. This covers the challenges for Pay TV operators who want to become â€˜appsâ€™ on connected TV devices and also looks at how operators can make more online services available through the set-top box and increase â€˜service velocityâ€™, and the role of apps within that. It considers how the Pay TV industry can achieve scale for Pay TV apps development, considering the role of Android and HTML5. It includes insights from Virgin Media, Orange and leading CE vendors, middleware providers, STB makers, apps development agencies and research/consulting companies.