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9 June 2022

Shrinking TV OS pool will drive aggregator consolidation

Is it a sign of the consolidatory and stagnated state of content aggregation that a Stream TV Show panel this week, dedicated to the topic of aggregation, offered zero insights into aggregation?

Everyone sees themselves as an aggregator of something in today’s TV marketplace. Old and new. Cable and streaming. Hardware and software. Liberty Global and Roku. Comcast and Plex. So much so that differentiating yourself as an aggregator is as difficult as differentiating in the UX department.

We are approaching a point where all aggregators will look the same, just as the majority of video user interfaces are becoming a game of spot the difference. However, the narrative that TV operating systems will eventually consolidate down to only a handful of OSs – like the smartphone OS space – is one that we cannot swallow.

Randy Ahn, Head of SVoD at The Roku Channel, is a firm believer in the consolidation of TV OSs to just two or three, based on the knowledge that more than one in three smart TVs sold in the US now come with a Roku OS built-in.

While we believe that Ahn’s OS consolidation projection is a delusion of grandeur, we do agree that aggregated experiences will consolidate as a result of the limited pool of TV OSs powering video streaming experiences.

It’s disappointing that Roku had little to say on the topic of differentiation, admitting that there’s a limit to how much you can differentiate. Ahn’s only insight into Roku’s UX R&D department is to add machine learning to its recommendation engine, so that the company can go deeper into engagement across the platform by personalizing experiences based on time of day, day of the week, and other context-based data.

The thing is, this isn’t new. Not even remotely. Experts in recommendation algorithms have been promoting content based on times and days, for many years.

The fact companies like Roku haven’t figured this out yet is worrying. Of course recommendations should be different on the TV in the family room at 6pm on a Wednesday, compared to on the TV in the marital bedroom at 9pm.

This ties back to the headache of unified cross-platform search and discovery in the world of the aggregators.

A specialist in this space is app aggregation ecosystem Plex, which describes itself as not just an aggregator of live channels and on-demand content to simplify the streaming search struggle, but a platform that thinks about how content gets to users.

Scott Olechowski, CPO and co-founder of Plex, believes we’re about to enter a stage where aggregation is table stakes, echoing similar sentiments from Liberty Global’s Bob Leighton, SVP of Programming. Olechowski also believes that contextualization of the streaming experience is the mode that will drive the next wave of opportunities for aggregation, search, discovery, and recommendations.

As we said, the technologies are already there (see separate story on Gracenote this week), we’re just waiting for the content providers to wake up and play catch-up.

Plex’s perspective is the opposite of Roku’s when it comes to TV OS consolidation, as Olechowski outright disagreed with Ahn. “I don’t think consolidation of TV OSs will happen. We’ve got all these manufacturers, in a world where there’s loads of competition, and everyone will fight to the death,” commented Olechowski. “It’s healthy, but I don’t see convergence to just one OS – it’s just not going to happen in this space.”

Comcast was represented on the Stream TV Show panel by Amy Geary, VP of Content Acquisition. “We have everything Roku has, but we also have broadband – bundling streaming services with really fast broadband,” was Geary’s way of getting back at Roku.

Geary went on to boast that Comcast’s X1 platform has been a pioneer of unified search for years, way back when it first integrated Netflix into the platform and noticed some overlap with its own content catalog. The US operator took this lesson onboard early on, showing users every possible way they can watch a title across their subscribed services, rather than forcing them to watch it the Comcast way, like other platforms do.

It all came across as a desperate attempt to get one over on the younger companies represented on the panel, which Comcast’s Geary needn’t have done considering that both Plex and Roku appear to be scratching their heads over how to differentiate as aggregators.