with Richard Bullwinkle, head of television innovation on Samsung's U.S. product innovation team
Richard Bullwinkle joined Samsung in April 2013 to lead the television innovation group within the company's product innovation team. The Silicon Valley-based group acts as a liaison between Samsung, the local startup and technology community and Hollywood and has recruited top talent from around the industry. The team's job is to think about what will be different about TV three years in the future and beyond, build prototypes and and service concepts and then help Samsung's product developers incorporate those ideas into new hardware. An early TiVo employee, Bullwinkle has worked at Replay TV, Rovi and Mediabolic. He and FierceOnlineVideo editor Josh Wein recently discussed how the Internet will affect the future of TV.
FierceOnlineVideo: Each week seems to bring a headline about a new entrant into the pay-TV sector that wants to use the Internet to reach viewers. When you look ahead 36 months, how many of these do you think will be operating? Will Samsung's equipment be compatible with all of them?
Richard Bullwinkle: Certainly the biggies in linear television will all come up with an Internet Protocol (IP) strategy. We heard from ESPN and probably the ABC group that they're looking for new ways to distribute their content and we'll also see every other network look at that strategy and figure out how to keep their advertisers and viewers happy in these new paradigms and use cases. There are basically two types of content--content that easily shifts to non-linear and therefore IP distribution is almost ideal, and live sports. Sports will always be delivered in at least a timely manner and probably a linear manner. Content that's contest-based like "American Idol" or "So You Think You Can Dance" or "The Voice" also won't switch to non-linear or non-live very easily. But I think in the end, all content moves to IP delivery. And Samsung is very keen to make sure our devices are the best devices to watch content on, whether that content is linear, non-linear, live or non-live.
FierceOnlineVideo: DVRs are moving to the cloud, a shift that is fueled in part by the Internet. But copyright law has led to some inefficient-looking services where video is delivered to a home, uploaded to a server and then sent back to the home for time-shifted viewing with individual copies stored for each viewer. What's the endgame here, and how long will this last?
Richard Bullwinkle: All of these things happen in spits and spurts. When TiVo launched, every network on the planet sued. Then within a few months, many of the networks invested in TiVo. So far, the law has not allowed us to store one copy and deliver it to multiple people. As far as DVR goes, we're only allowed to record your copy and send that up to the cloud. It has to be locally recorded in your home and we have to have a copy per user. I think the next step is people will start to realize, "Well, that doesn't make any sense." Aereo is doing something like that, but Aereo has an antenna for every single customer. Over time we'll realize that's ridiculous. The networks are always looking for new ways to monetize their content. They will adjust to new technologies as quickly as possible, but you can't expect them to just give up their revenue with every disruption.
FierceOnlineVideo: Samsung makes set-top boxes and smart TVs that increasingly offer apps from the major online video sources. How open is that platform and how can independent app developers or content producers reach it?
Richard Bullwinkle: If you have interesting content, you won't sit on it very long. Samsung will come to you and say "How do we get this content onto our TV?" Samsung wants the best content on our platform every single time. Any content we find interesting, we approach them. And anybody who has an interesting story to tell can go to developer.samsung.com, download the developer kit and build an app for our TVs. That's the easy part. The really hard part is, "How do I get that app in front of my customers and find new ways to get people using those apps?" Both Samsung and developers are working on that problem. Promotion, highlighting and putting key apps in front of consumers who want them--we're working on a lot of different paradigms to make sure every developer with a great story to tell can get in front of the right customers.
FierceOnlineVideo: Software upgrade cycles are far, far shorter than the standard life of a TV set. How do you make sure Samsung hardware can handle best-in-class apps?
Richard Bullwinkle: We've created an evolution kit. If you buy a Samsung television today, it has a removable part in the back. In three years, you can actually remove it, buy the new evolution kit--it comes with a new remote--and you basically have a whole new television with a whole new set of capabilities for a fraction of the cost. That's our way of keeping up with developers and making sure our platform is always the latest and greatest--and not just the software but also the hardware.
FierceOnlineVideo: Call it 4K or Ultra HD--online video companies say they will deliver it before traditional pay-TV distributors. Is this true, and what implications does it have for a company like Samsung?
Richard Bullwinkle: The infrastructure costs around 4K are very, very high. Not just the TV for the consumer, but the cameras to film it, the satellite uplinks to load it up and of course the bandwidth on those satellites. I'm sure DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV) is already planning how many birds they need for 4K. But before they make that investment, they probably want to know how many consumers are willing to pay for it. Who will be the first people to distribute the content? I think the Internet will do that faster than anyone else. They have an infrastructure that allows for much more scalability than the satellite in the sky or the cable pipe coming into the home. But I do think everyone will get on board once consumers start buying those TVs.
FierceOnlineVideo: Will consumers buy 4K displays?
Richard Bullwinkle: When you ask consumers why they made the switch to HD, it happened at the same time televisions went flat. Not a lot of people bought the HDTVs that looked like the TVs we had before. There were HD Tube TVs that almost nobody bought. The minute we had a flat TV, tons of people bought. And there's some evidence to show that, yes, HD was a driver in getting people to the store and buying a new TV, but what really sent people to the store was getting a flat TV. We're in a flat world now, so what's the next thing that really drives people to the stores? We tried 3D and consumers were not terribly interested. We tried Internet TV or streaming TV, and that certainly has driven some sales. A huge percentage of of Samsung TVs are connected to the Internet and in some cases consumers are replacing TVs just for that feature. The next big thing that drives people to the store, I think, is 4K. I used to be one of those people who didn't think it was. But when I saw it, I suddenly got it.