The war for the family room – The Content Wars

Almost a year ago I posted a two part set of posts discussing “The war for the family room”, where I discussed an impending battle between the Xbox, Apple TV, and Google TV. Things are evolving quite nicely. Though Google TV has effectively flopped in it’s first (overpriced and overly complex) implementation, I’m sure Google will be back.

In the meantime, I wanted to take a bit of a look into where all three are now.

Apple TV – more content providers, but largely focused on iTunes, Netflix, Vimeo, YouTube, and several sports channel “apps”. No live TV (not shocking), but expanded photo support (a single iCloud Photo Stream) and iCloud retrieval of purchased TV content (and music, including ripped, if you use Music Match).

Xbox – new dashboard released yesterday brought a Metro look and feel and several new content “apps”, with more to come over the next few months around the world. I really believe we’re headed towards a world where some WinRT apps will run here in time. We’ll see.

Google TV – Well, they’ve updated it, but their partner story isn’t happy. They have an app store, but very few customers. IMHO, the platform is on hiatus. We’ll see if it gets renewed and taken seriously.

An interesting commonality with all three platforms is that you can now use the respective phone platform as a remote control for the device itself beyond the normal remote you would use with it (yesterday’s Xbox update delivered that for WP7 users).

In a conversation today, th0ugh, a very interesting difference came up between these three devices; their content acquisition stories.

Microsoft is partnering with quite a few content providers (some of whom are obscure to me, but perhaps it’s because I’m cable and sports-challenged). I mean quite a few content providers. Many of these still require a subscription, some of whom require a cable subscription (or cable with specific channels), though some are free.

Apple is being incredibly strategic (stingy?) about what’s on the Apple TV content list. Initially YouTube, Netflix, adding Vimeo and some sports coverage (NBA, MLB, NHL). I believe sports is a fundamental missing link that would prevent many cord-cutters from jumping to Apple TV (and off of cable). But by and large, bypassing providers themselves (also omitting Hulu – <grumble>. In essence, Apple has really focused on the content, not on providers.

Google, like Apple, also focused on content directly, at least initially. Google’s initial ethos was all of the content you want, direct from the Web. Pretty much every content provider kicked Google in the groin, and blocked Google TV devices from accessing their content on the Web (killing almost all of the device’s intended utility). I think in their refocus on Google TV, Google has taken much more of an approach like Microsoft’s and is trying to bring apps to the platform for whomever wants to play.

My concern with Microsoft’s, and possibly Google’s strategy is it doesn’t actually help cord-cutters (it doesn’t help you if you actually want to save money). While Apple may have less content in many ways through its direct content channels, the amount you save not having to pay for cable can in some cases justify actually buying TV content on iTunes instead of paying for cable to get access to the content channel. This is what we’ve found in my family; with the $60+ that we save by not having cable, we can either watch content live over the HDTV antenna or in a worst case, watch it on iTunes if it is available for purchase.

Over the next few years, video content will be shifting immensely. How we watch it, where we watch it, what we watch it on, what we pay for it, and what kind of advertising we have to/want to watch in order to access it. Much like iTunes and the Internet did to shift the music industry, and the Internet, Kindle, iPad, and eBooks as a whole did to publishing, cable companies, television networks, local affiliates, and television consumers should get ready – there’s some pretty intense tectonic events coming to the video content marketplace.

edit: An important omission. I failed to mention Amazon’s content play. Amazon is currently relying on several proprietary set-top-boxes to stream their content to your TV. I’m not sure they will be… content to sit this out. I have to think they’ll do their own set top box within the next few years in order to try and control the channel.

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