May 22, 2013

Maybe The Meteor Is Inside A Roku Box

We talk a lot about how it’s going to take a meteor to disrupt the way we watch television, so tightly bound are the legal arrangements that impede innovation. But maybe that meteor is already here and we don’t know it yet.

Maybe that meteor looks a lot like a Roku box.

Roku is far and away the most successful of the streaming devices, both from a sales perspective and from a usability perspective (I test them out both in the office and at home and Roku is the winner hands down - more content, easier to use and cheaper.)

And now, in addition to all the network apps, there are MVPD apps: Time Warner introduced an app a few months back that has over 300 channels - including all the good ones - housed in a far more user friendly interface than we’ve ever seen from an MVPD.

Which raises the issue of network apps versus MVPD apps.

To date, most of the activity around second screen apps has come from the networks, HBO GO and Watch ESPN being two of the more prominent examples. But there’s a limit to how many apps we can open - imagine if your TV experience consisted of 150 apps, each for a different network with a different navigation and different experience.

Which is where the MVPD can come in. Live viewing aside, there needs to be some sort of organizational framework for the various network experiences, a common discovery engine and a way to personalize each user’s experience on a macro level, not just network by network.

So here’s where the MVPD can come in. Imagine Time Warner didn’t just have an app but that the Roku OS was their app. They would handle discovery, wish lists, recommendations and the like, and they’d enforce standardized ad units and ways to measure the success of both ads and programming.

But once you crossed that line, once you moved from the home screen to the show of your choice, you’d move into the world the network created.

That would, in turn, give the networks a renewed sense of purpose. The loss of brand identity is what's keeping network executives up at night. (They’ve fallen rapidly since the days of “must see TV.”) A unique second (and/or first) screen experience would help each network to maintain its identity and connect with the user, while the MVPD would still be able to create a framework with the program guide, controlling things like discovery and channel flipping along with any DVR functionality (which is likely to take the form of catch-up TV.)

Is it the system you’d design if you were designing TV from scratch? Probably not. But then again you probably wouldn’t design networks or production companies into the picture either. We work with what we’ve got, and this seems like it could be a very good solution. It doesn’t necessarily require Roku-- you could create it on any streaming device, and the only caveat is that you’d need a decent sized pipe to ensure that picture quality was the same as it is on broadcast TV.

But that’s it. The pieces are all there. Someone’s just got to put them together. And start killing off the dinosaurs.