Why GoogleTV And AppleTV Are Still Hobbies
In an earlier article, I talked about why the nomenclature for GoogleTV and AppleTV is ill-conceived, and why Google and Apple are doing the marketing of these products a disservice. At the same time, the opportunity to bring Internet and digital media to the largest screen in the home is immense (as I wrote in a recent report I co-authored for the Yankee Group). The nomenclature, the product development and marketing approaches demonstrate that neither company has qualified this opportunity sufficiently.
For the most part, GoogleTV is a bit of a joke in the industry given its lackluster success and Google's mishandling of its launch at CES 2011. Similarly, Steve Jobs has admitted that, till recently, AppleTV was a hobby, and I believe he is being sincere in saying so. Actually, I think both GoogleTV and Apple TV are still hobbies (read science projects) for these companies, and it is not entirely surprising.
The market for these products is not realized yet. What market does exist is marginally attractive in the larger scheme of things and is already full of scrappy price competitive players like Roku, NetGear, and others. Today, perhaps the most appealing Internet video experience is from NetFlix, who reportedly accounts for 20% of Internet bandwidth consumption during peak hours and 61% of all full length movie streams. In large part, this experience is successful because it started as an extension of an existing online service, a not insignificant amount of content is available on Netflix, and it is ridiculously inexpensive, both in the equipment required and the subscription service. (There is an interesting analysis to be done on to what extent this last part is sustainable and what the implications are for network service providers, and therefore consumers, when adoption grows further. Will consumers expect ever better streaming quality and more rapid content refresh and what does that mean for Netflix?)
In any event, Internet video today is, by definition, a disruptive video experience -- i.e., lower quality and choice at a lower price -- compared to what is available on pay TV programming. For those that want to argue about the infinite content choices that come with the Internet, let's just say that with Netflix and Hulu as the fastest growing streaming sites it seems pretty clear what's going on with consumer demand.
For now, consumers don't know what they're missing because they haven't seen it before. Today, by connecting the biggest screen in the house to the Internet consumers are getting the typical television-like experience for most part. Changing that is the big opportunity for either or both Google and Apple, redefining the category similar to what Apple did for music.
I would like to think that if the opportunity was ripe for the picking for Google and Apple they would have more well-conceived offerings. Today, there are a lot of low hanging fruit and there are lots of companies having a fine time picking at it. It will not be much longer before the shakeout and consolidation happens, just as, about a decade ago, the home networking market surged in numbers of vendors and quickly settled within a matter of two or three years. That's Moore's law at work among other things.
That is when the real opportunity will emerge for big plays more suited to the Googles and Apples of the world. Sure, a few different things could happen including some existing players getting well ahead of the pack and changing the game. For example, NetFlix could conceivably set the mold for the next generation of a media company and television experience. In that case, "Netflix TV" might become the one to beat. Or it may not.
Another set of interesting developments are the permutations around what I call "tethered experiences," particularly with the iPAD. Such solutions may well preempt quantum leap solutions like Google TV is intended to be, benefiting incumbent PayTV operators the most if they are quick enough to capitalize on the opportunity. Solutions from companies like IntoNow, which Yahoo recently acquired, and other things going on with auto content recognition (using watermarking and fingerprinting solutions to synchronize IP data with broadcast programming) may well create a more seamless and desirable adoption path for the mass market where traditional television programming is augmented with tethered wireless devices.
In the scheme of things, the Smart TV and Internet TV phenomenon seems a safe harbor to a lot of companies (and even industries) who are getting upended by the forces of change. These include television set and Blu-ray manufacturers, and even NetFlix with its traditional physical-media business. It is not surprising to see the surge of products and services getting launched, not a few of which are ill conceived. Neither Google nor Apple need this safe harbor as a matter of survival, nor is the market ready for them. If anything, the market for portable and mobile devices and applications of both these companies far exceeds the near term prospects for either Google TV or Apple TV. I'll discuss this further in an upcoming article. It would, however, be ironic if their respective tablet and mobile device formats end up as the next definitive evolution of television viewing despite their own TV initiatives, wouldn't it?