Industry execs share diverging opinions about aggregation

The Netflix exec said most subscriber growth should outlive the pandemic.(Vizio)

Inviting executives representing a subscription video service, a streaming-media platform and two TV vendors to discuss the future of aggregating online video did not lead to a convergence of opinions.

A panel on “Devices, Operating Systems, and the New Era of Aggregation” at FierceVideo’s Stream TV Show did, however, yield useful insights on how the industry has addressed such issues as the effects of the novel-coronavirus pandemic on the business, content personalization, and its flip-side of viewer tracking.

Gary Schanman, founder of the consultancy GBMonday, led this 40-minute online discussion with Rob Caruso, vice president of device partnerships at Netflix, Matthew Durgin, senior director of content innovation at LG Electronics, Anwar Haneef, head of product for experience integrations and ecosystem at Google TV, and Mike O'Donnell, senior vice president for platform business at Vizio.

The panel began with the topic that forced this conference to transform from an in-person gathering in Denver to a virtual event hosted on the Brella platform — the pandemic that was nearing 238,000 U.S. deaths as the panel began.

“Usage has been up,” said Netflix's Caruso. “We’ve had some really tremendous quarters.”

He added that most of this increase should outlive the pandemic: “What’s sticky is internet TV is probably not going away.”

Both of the TV-vendor representatives noted that their employers had overcome early fears about the pandemic disrupting their supply chains to meet a rise in demand from viewers unable to go to movie theaters or other entertainment venues.

“We were definitely concerned that where would consumers be, where would the supply chain be?” LG's Durgin said. “We’ve been able to supply our dealers, and you can see that consumers have shifted their dollars toward their homes, because they’ve been stuck at home.”

Vizio’s O’Donnell shared a similar take. “We’ve seen the demand on the hardware side skyrocket,” he said. “We were blessed to be able to solve any supply chain issues we’ve had.”

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He added that Vizio has seen “twice the amount of engagement per user per month,” which led to a discussion of that company’s usage-tracking and ad-targeting capabilities. The latter include the ability to perform automated content recognition on everything onscreen, including from external inputs.

“We have an extremely transparent opt-in, which is important to us,” O’Donnell said. The upside for Vizio: the ability to perform dynamic ad insertion even in linear TV, boosting the fortunes of content partners.

Haneef, meanwhile, touted Google’s ability to discern viewers’ interests — something the search giant can arguably do better than any one equipment or software vendor.

“We have the knowledge graph at Google,” he said. The breadth of that, he said, allows the company’s streaming-media platform to work with tastes that cross borders: “I’m able to ask Google to get me an Indian movie that I want to watch: it’s able to do that in the U.S.”

Netflix’s Caruso then pitched the narrower personalization that SVOD service can perform — “that’s what we believe is going to produce maximum joy,” which in turn requires Netflix to own its customer experience.

“The best place to discover and experience Netflix content is within Netflix,” he said.

When asked by Schanman about future directions for connected TVs, the LG and Vizio executives separately pointed to use cases outside of entertainment, and in particular online shopping and smart-home gadgetry.

“This can that you’re opening up here is interesting, because the TV has become more than a TV,” said Durgin.

“The opportunity in front of us is the centerpiece of that smart home,” replied O’Donnell. “It’s the largest and best screen.”