Wolk’s Week in Review: Google makes CTV moves and Roku goes linear

TV[R]EV Week In Review
(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. Google makes CTV moves

Google has made a few CTV moves as of late. Last week, TCL, one of the low-priced Chinese brands that typically have a Roku interface baked in, released some new Android-powered models.

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Combine that with Google’s plans for an updated Chromecast dongle, that allegedly comes with an actual remote, and we may have a comeback in the making.

Why it matters

Google has been pretty much shut out of the whole OTT arms race as Roku, Amazon and (occasionally) Apple fight it out amongst themselves.

The original Chromecast, which launched to much hoopla, was a complete bust because it did not have a remote control and Google sort of forgot that people often want to pause and rewind TV shows, which left it sort of dead in the water.

Android TVs have been floating around--AT&T has some that they’re pushing, but the interface always made them seem like the store brand your mother insisted you buy instead of the Nikes you really wanted.

That all may be about to change however, as Android expands and Google gets serious about upping their interface game.

Or not.

There are several issues here.

First there’s Roku and the fact that something like 30% of the smart TVs sold in the U.S. have a Roku interface today, an interface people generally like and find easy to use.

That’s great for Roku but they don’t actually own any of those OEMs, they just have deals for them to use Roku’s OS.

Which was great for the OEMs--they got the advantage of Roku’s easy to use phone-like interface and name recognition to sell their low-priced, zero name recognition sets.

But it’s not too hard to imagine Amazon or Google telling the OEMs they’ll pay double whatever Roku is paying when the contract is up in order to get their OS on the TV sets.

So there’s that.

There’s also Samsung and VIZIO.

Back in the day, smart TVs had really poor interfaces for OTT along with a limited number of apps, and so viewers felt like they needed a Roku or Amazon Fire TV on their new smart TV set.

But both companies have been working hard on their interfaces, using solid UX teams and creating the sorts of user experience where people are actually choosing not to resort to their Roku or Fire TV sticks.

That’s particularly good news for Samsung and VIZIO because they own the TV sets, the interfaces on the TV sets and all the data they get from those TV sets, which they then use to sell advertising on those TV sets that they own via their own in-house ad sales teams.

Meaning that no one can come along and give the contract for the OS to a competitor, the way they can with Roku and Amazon, thus disrupting their entire ecosystems.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Roku, you need to try and safeguard those contracts and extend the terms, e.g., lots of lawyers.

If you’re Amazon, you may want to actually start making your own TV sets. Or at least buy out someone who can do that for you. (Clearly money is no object here.)

If you’re Samsung and VIZIO, keep working on those interfaces and pressuring the Flixes to roll out apps for your platforms and updates to said apps in a more timely manner. Given that the conventional wisdom seems to be that viewers will slap a Roku or Fire TV stick on every device they own for consistency, if you have stats that prove otherwise, make sure to share them.

2. Roku goes linear

Roku is making the linear channels on its Roku Channel a thing. And while you still can’t use the remote to click up and down through the channel line-up the way you can with Pluto, they do have a pretty broad array of options, everything from sports to news to entertainment.

Why it matters

Linear on the FASTS is something we’ve been talking about for a while now and it’s becoming even more relevant.

With almost a fifth of the country unemployed, people are not going to have the money to spend on pay TV or Flixes.

They’re going to be looking at what they can get for free with their broadband connection and while what’s currently available on the FASTS isn’t perfect, it’s good enough and then some.

And when you don’t have a job and free is all you’ve got, “good enough and then some” is a welcome option. Especially when it checks all the boxes you need—sports, news and entertainment. And that's the worst case scenario. For many people “good enough” will actually be “very good” and they’ll be thrilled to be getting it for free.

What that means is that the FASTS will continue to expand, that more advertising dollars will shift their way as more viewers become accustomed to the (much) lower ad loads they run, and the industry will need to adjust accordingly.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Roku, Tubi, Pluto, Xumo or one of the other FASTS, keep close watch on your viewer stats, especially for linear as you’ll want to get those in front of advertisers ASAP.

Same crew: think about creating personalized linear feeds for your users based on their viewing habits. If nothing else, it’s a great reason for users to create an account, which gives you access to even more data.

If you’re an advertiser, CTV is booming, it’s drawing in all sorts of viewers who are tired of the same old/same old and the 16 minutes of advertising per hour that come with it. And it’s all addressable.

If you’re in the industry, keep your eyes out for TV[R]EV’s upcoming Special Report on FASTS, due out this summer.

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