Wolk’s Week in Review: Comcast to launch its own smart TV, LG Ads rolls out a new operating system

TV[R]EV Week In Review
Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TV[R]EV, examines plans for new Comcast smart TVs and a new LG smart TV OS. (TV[R]EV)

Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. Comcast To Launch Its Own Smart TV

Thanks to some ace reporting by Protocol’s Janko Roettgers, we now know that Comcast is going to be launching its own line of “XClass” branded smart TVs. The TVs will be made by Hisense, a Chinese manufacturer of low-priced TVs and will seemingly be sold via Walmart. The TVs use Comcast’s Flex/X1 operating system will come with all the major Flixes and FASTs onboard except for Apple TV+ and Discovery+.

Why It Matters

Dongles are so 2020.

That’s the message the industry seems to be coming to terms with as the native interfaces on smart TVs, long an afterthought, have now been brought up to the same level of user friendliness as Roku and Amazon Fire TV, complete with slick remotes, voice commands, Alexa integration and their own extensive FAST libraries. 

As noted in our recent special report on the emerging smart TV ecosystem (like how I slipped that in there?) this combination of more viewers, ad-supported programming and measurement has made the smart TV OEMs—LG, VIZIO and Samsung in particular—very attractive to advertisers looking to expand their CTV presence.

Back to Comcast though.

Yes, many people like Comcast’s X1 interface, or like it better than the really awful interfaces MVPDs traditionally have on offer, but do they like it enough to dump their current TV for it?

That seems unlikely, especially given that the new Comcast TVs will only offer 43” and 50” models, which would seem to put them in the Guest Room Zone. 

They are offering 12 free months of Peacock Premium, but that seems more like a nice perk you discover once you buy the TV rather than a reason to buy it. 

Which brings me to my two big problems with Comcast’s plan: 

Problem 1: There’s no real reason to buy the TV other than perhaps price—it doesn’t do anything that other TVs don’t do, except maybe give you free Peacock, but Roku, which also has its OS in a lot of smaller, cheaper Chinese-made TVs, has a much wider array of content options and comes free and clear of the knee-jerk negative reaction many Americans still have when they hear the words “cable company.” 

Problem 2: Because they’re not going to sell a whole lot of units—even if a decent number of streaming newcomers get past the “Can I still get a Comcast TV even if I don’t have Comcast cable?” stumbling block—the total user base is going to be quite small compared to VIZIO, Samsung, Roku, LG and Amazon. 

That’s five companies I just ticked off, not to mention Apple and Google, who are hovering around in the background, and Sony, which could go the FAST content route too.

Meaning it’s going to be that much harder for Comcast to break in and achieve any kind of meaningful user base. That in turn means it will be harder to get app updates in any sort of timely manner, which means it will be harder to sell more TV, which quickly turns into a vicious cycle.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Comcast, the TVs are still not a bad move—it’s a way to get more people to try Peacock which is likely to find more of an audience with the late adopter group. It’s also a way to expand your footprint beyond your broadband base, something you’ve always wanted to do.

The problem is going to be giving people a reason to buy your TV over TVs from all the brands they already know, especially when it seems to be something of a parity product at best. 

If you’re one of the other OEMs, nothing to see here. Mostly this just gets you more publicity for the growing smart TV market and helps train people they no longer need a dongle.

If you’re an advertiser, here’s further proof the smart TV market is booming and you need to get in on the action.

2. LG Ads Rolls Out A New Operating System

LG Ads announced that they were rolling out a new ad-based operating system called River OS. River will focus on creating a personalized experience for each viewer, especially around advertising, while providing popular features like voice control as well.

Why It Matters

The key piece of information about River is that it is rolling out in India first, at the end of this year. 

That’s because all those ads are a way to keep prices affordable in a country like India, where few consumers can pay U.S.-level prices for a television set.

This is a smart move for many reasons.

To begin with, the TV market in the developing world is both huge and largely unspoken for, something my friend Evan Shapiro is fond of pointing out

Second, American television companies often misjudge these markets.

Take Netflix, which is doing very badly against Hotstar, a Disney-owned streaming service that features a lot of advertising and thus is able to offer plans as low as around $0.45/month, In response, Netflix has rolled out a lower priced (around $5/month) mobile-only plan, but it hasn’t really moved the needle in any significant way.

LG is also going to license River, which, as Shapiro pointed out in the above linked piece, is key, because the OS is going to be the key to the future of TV, and right now there really isn’t a dominant player in the developing world, though Google and Amazon both seem to have their eyes fixed on it as part of their plans to achieve Total World Domination in just about everything.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re LG Ads, well done. You spotted a market and came out with a product that was well-suited for that market while likely getting first mover advantage.

If you’re one of the other OEMs, nothing to worry about here. River does not seem designed to appeal to the sort of American and European viewers who buy higher end TV sets. And the more the global market moves from mobile to actual TV sets, the harder it is going to be for Google to break in, so there’s that too.

If you’re a multinational brand and you do business in the developing world, this is something to keep an eye on as it should prove to be a great way to reach those consumers with more innovative ad units like takeovers.

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