Save your FREE seat for Streaming Media Connect this August. Register Now!

Why Apple, Microsoft, or Amazon Will Win the the Living Room

Article Featured Image

Apple’s recent launch of a much-revised and improved Apple TV experience brings the family room back into the spotlight, where a long-standing war has been raging. From game consoles to set-top boxes (STB) to smart apps, a host of hardware and software companies have been vying for the coveted “gateway” spot—the main device or application with which users watch their video content, whether it’s on the TV or the smartphone.

Up until now, it’s been a somewhat lopsided battle among five companies—Microsoft, Apple, Google, Sony, and Amazon. For over a decade, these contenders have been incrementally improving how well their offerings let users navigate, view, discover, and search for content. In some instances, such as with the previous generation of Apple TV, there was even connection between devices. For example, you could control the Apple TV with the Remote app on the iPhone.

But Apple isn’t the only company that’s enabling this cross-device experience. Each of these companies has made incredible improvements to its device (Xbox, PS4, Chromecast, FireTV) in order to facilitate a more agnostic approach to content consumption, which brings me to the point of this column. Why didn’t I include Roku in that mix? Or TiVo? Or any of a dozen other device manufacturers? Because, quite simply, those devices aren’t going to win this war. It’s much bigger than just a cute little black box or a software application.

It’s about a platform.

When you look at those five companies I listed, all of them do two things. First, they have a family of devices that, in some form or another, are connected to each other, whether it’s via the cloud or a direct connection, such as with the Apple Remote app and the Apple TV. Regardless, the experience crosses devices. There is no web app for Roku. There is no STB for Plex (more on them in a moment). Second, these five companies actually have a platform for media consumption that unites devices, the web, and the personal computer.

Take iTunes, for example. This software, installed on a user’s local computer and part of the iOS experience on their phones and tablets, enables users to manage their entire media library, purchase new media, and share their media. Cloud-enabled, it provides an opportunity to consume content wherever the user happens to be. The same goes for Xbox (via Xbox Live) and Amazon (via Kindle). Google and Sony? They need something to unify media across their devices—some software they can install on computers and devices. Until they have that, they’re dark horses at best. And with its cross-platform software (available on all the major devices and the web and even integrated into many network-attached storage products), so is Plex. Although I’d venture to guess Plex is more of an acquisition target than anything else. (Google and Sony, are you paying attention?) Back to the matter at hand, though, Apple has just upped the ante. Apple TV is now part of the Apple OS family. It’s integrated. Like the iPhone and iPad, it supports apps. (Plex has an app for it; Google and Sony, what are you waiting for?) Users can customize the media experience with different content owners. And don’t tell me you can’t imagine a day when the apps from content owners such as HBO and AMC will be cracked open and exposed, enabling a platform provider like Apple, or Amazon, or Microsoft, the ability to create a unifying vision of content across OTT providers. Don’t shake your head, it’s coming.

My bet? If someone (cough, cough, Google or Sony) doesn’t acquire Plex as it’s unifying platform software, Apple’s going to win this war—it has the content owner relationships, the most popular family of devices, the most robust platform. And soon? A subscription service for broadcast TV content.

Go ahead and grab your popcorn. Round 12 is just starting.

This article appears in the January/February 2016 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “In the Fight for the Family Room, the Platform Wins.”

Streaming Covers
for qualified subscribers
Subscribe Now Current Issue Past Issues
Related Articles

Apple TV Gaining Easy Authentication and Siri Voice Controls

In a software-heavy WWDC keynote, Apple announced several improvements to the Apple TV tvOS, but hardware with 4K video support was nowhere to be seen.

WWDC Preview: Apple TV Has an App Developer Crisis to Deal With

People return to Apple TV apps far less than they return to iPhone or iPad apps, giving developers less chance to earn a living. Will they abandon the platform?

Microsoft Video Pulse in Open Preview, Collects Viewer Feedback

Audience reaction survey tool Microsoft Pulse gains a new skill, and can now be used to solicit feedback on recorded MP4 videos.

Streaming Media West '15: Xbox Live Behind the Scenes

Xbox Live's Corey Smith shared behind-the-scenes details about the Xbox Live Events interactive platform and a recent Xbox One event

As New Apple TV Ships, Possibilities Emerge for New TV Experiences

The latest Apple TV promises more interactivity, tighter smartphone and tablet integration, and more advertising opportunities. But will consumers, media companies, and operators take advantage of all that it offers?

PlayStation Vue Now Available—For Some People on Some Devices

Can an online service without ABC and ESPN succeed? Does the $50 per month price offer enough of a savings? Sony tempts people to cut the cord.