After all the news that came out of CES last week on the number of companies working on software platforms for TVs and devices, one has to wonder if these platforms are destined to follow the fragmentation we currently have on the hardware side. As an industry, we still haven't figured out what devices can survive and co-exist in the long run. We currently have so many broadband enabled devices in the market including the Roku, TiVo, VUDU, PS3, Xbox 360, TVs, Blu-ray players, Apple TV and soon to be Boxee and Popbox, without having to figure out what platforms they can all run.
While it's good to see the industry starting to talk about the platform that will enable us to find and consume the content, as opposed to being so focused on the hardware, the conversation is only going to get more confusing now that so many platforms exist. Here is a list of the platforms that I could think of:
- VUDU: While VUDU started off as a hardware device, the company has since changed to a platform licensing model for third party devices and now has deals with LG, Mitsubishi, Samsung, SANYO, Sharp, Toshiba and VIZIO.
- Yahoo!: While Yahoo! originally started off with some widget functionality that didn't seem like a big deal, at CES, they announced a whole bunch of new partnerships with chip makes, TV manufactures and media player companies for their Connected TV effort. To date, they have deals with VIZIO, ViewSonic, Hisense International, Intel, Samsung, LG Electronics, Sony MIPS Technologies and Sigma Designs.
- TiVo: While TiVo has always been a hardware and platform company, they have been working for years to try and diversify their revenue by licensing their platform to the MSOs. Recently, they have been very vocal that MSOs should use the TiVo platform as a gateway, or portal for OTT type content to enable MSOs to offer something similar to a VOD service. So far, they have signed up Virgin Media in the UK.
- Netflix: While most think of Netflix as simply a content partner inside a platform like the Roku or Xbox 360, Netflix is also a stand alone platform for the numerous deals they have cut with device manufactures. Netflix said they expect to be on more than 100 broadband enabled devices by the end of this year which easily makes Netflix not only a content option, but also their own stand alone platform.
- Best Buy: While we don't know exactly when or what devices the Best Buy platform is coming to, Best Buy plans to enter the market some time this year with a digital download offering that's powered by CinemaNow. Users will be able to download content via BestBuy.com and via select devices sold in Best Buy stores.
- Blockbuster: While the company has been slow to get their platform, powered by CinemaNow, onto many hardware devices, expect to see a slew of consumer electronic deals announced this year. Blockbuster is available via TiVo's platform and to date has one direct manufacturer deal with Samsung.
- PlayStation Network (PSN): While the PSN always went along with Sony's gaming devices, the company announced at CES that they would soon bring the PlayStation network to other Sony hardware products including TVs and Blu-ray players.
- DivX: At CES, DivX announced the launch of of their embedded Internet TV platform called DivX TV along with a list of partners from integrated circuit manufacturers and consumer electronic companies including LG, ADB, Broadcom Corporation, Iomega and Viewsonic amongst others.
- Rovi: While the company does not have any deals with hardware manufactures yet, it's only a matter of time before Rovi branches out to devices with their recently announced TotalGuide EPG platform. The company's goal is that their platform will become an interactive program guide integrated into TVs and set-top-boxes.
- iTunes: While Apple's iTunes platform is not yet connected to any TV device other than Apple's own Apple TV, I would expect the company to start cutting licensing deals this year with major CE manufactures.
- Boxee: For a company who's platform has gotten more press and hype before even having a product out on the market, Boxee announced last week that it would also be entering the hardware market later in the year. While still a platform company at heart who's main goal is to get integrated via set-top-boxes, Boxee now straddles both sides of the fence with a hardware and platform business.
- CinemaNow: While the company has focused on white labeling their technology platform for Blockbuster and Best Buy, the company is planning to work directly with CE manufactures in the New Year.
Even with the names I probably overlooked from this list, that's already a dozen platforms all targeting TVs and broadband enabled devices. So what happens when, years from now, we actually have a lot of these devices out in the market? How fragmented are all of these content services going to be when consumers buy a Blu-ray player or broadband connected TV and it has movies from one studio but not another? Are content companies going to have to follow the path of Netflix and get their content on every device out there, or can any of these video platforms get enough of an install base to really dominate the market?
For years we've been complaining about how fragmented the device market is, but if we thought that was bad, just try to envision what the platform market is going to look like three years from now. It won't be pretty.