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  • THE 10-FOOT VIEW:

    STRATEGIES FOR DEVELOPING OTT TV APPS FOR TV DEVICES

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  • It almost goes without saying these days that OTT viewers expect a consistent viewing experience across whatever device they happen to choose. At this point, the importance of mobile and web interfaces is well established. But with the increasing use of connected TV devices, the 10-foot experience is gaining a lot more importance. Customer expectations are rising. When your screen fits in your hand and your point of comparison is YouTube, a high quality experience has one set of requirements. But when your family and friends are watching with you on a cutting edge screen in your living room, they expect a viewing experience equal to or better than that of traditional linear TV.

    So how can OTT compete on the big screen? It’s not just one set of challenges to overcome. Each device has its own advantages…and limitations. Let’s explore what it takes to create a successful 10-foot experience.

    The first, and most important, thing to understand about developing OTT apps for the living room is that every platform is unique. So it’s critical to take a look at the device landscape to begin with. Let’s review some of the key players, and what developers need to be aware of going in.

    Taking a look at this year’s market share from the Adobe US Digital Video Benchmark, it’s clear that Apple is an overwhelming player. However, each platform has its own strengths, and market share varies across geographies.

    AN OVERVIEW OF DEVICES

  • APPLE TV

    AMAZON FIRE

    Apple has a hoard of devoted fans, and the iOS ecosystem makes it relatively easy to create apps across devices.

    The US juggernaut is making the leap into yet another market. The Amazon ecosystem includes hardware development, software development, sales channels, and content, so it’s both a market and a competitor for nearly everybody.

    Apple offers two ways to develop for Apple TV:

    The traditional method would be to build something to run native, in either Swift or Objective C. If you’ve built an iOS app already, you can relatively easily extend it and add an Apple TV app. This offers the most flexibility, but takes a lot more work.

    Apple TV also offers templates based on JavaScript, using their Television Markup Language (TVML). This is a much quicker way of developing an app, but has less flexibility.

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    Apple has great name recognition in general, and a well-established app store. As the product becomes more mature, it will become increasingly easy to be used by viewers around the world.

    While Amazon doesn’t share sales figures, anecdotal evidence suggests Amazon Fire has been popular. Everyone who’s really invested in the Amazon ecosystem will likely end up wanting one. They were the first to deploy voice search, which implies an interest in staying on the cutting edge. Fortunately, from a developer’s perspective, 99% of what works on Android TV will also work on Amazon Fire, so it’s very easy to just port over code.

    On the other hand, because creating apps for iOS is so easy, you get a lot of apps for Apple TV that are not necessarily well-targeted, which can make it hard to cut through the noise with a really good app. In addition, they’re hampered by the relatively high price of their devices. Finally, while this may change, they currently have no 4K UHD support.

    ADVANTAGES:

    ADVANTAGES:

    LIMITATIONS:

    Right now, Amazon is still focused on just a few countries, mostly the US and UK.

    LIMITATIONS:

  • The development platform, though, is a bit quirky. Until recently, developers were limited to templates that were lacking in slick design. Last year, they released the SceneGraph SDK, which takes more effort to work with but offers more flexibility. The devices themselves are relatively low powered, but not usually to the point where they become a problem. The biggest issue may be the limited geography. At the moment, they’re heavily concentrated in the US and UK, with a few other countries in Europe and very little presence in Latin America or Asia.

    LIMITATIONS:

    CONNECTED TVS There a large number of connected TV manufacturers out there, but as connected TVs become more popular, that landscape is shifting. Consolidation is starting, and many of the C- and D-level brands are migrating to Roku or Android TV.

    Sheer numbers—10s of millions of units being sold a year. This is also a much more international space. In the US, usage is focused on set-top boxes. But outside of the US, Roku, Amazon, and Apple are much less present. Users are more likely to have a smart TV or a game console as their primary streaming device. While the number of manufacturers can be intimidating, from an app developer’s perspective, all the different manufacturers’ platforms are relatively similar. If you’ve developed an app for one, it’s easy to expand to the rest.

    ADVANTAGES:

    ROKU Roku has made a name for themselves primarily in the US and UK with relatively cheap streaming devices including smart TVs, set-top boxes, and streaming sticks.

    Roku boasts a very active developer evangelism team, with activities including a well-run blog and Twitter account, an active forum, and frequent MeetUps. In the US, they’re very well-known and well-reviewed, with some considering them the most usable device on the market. They’ve also been around for a while. As a result, they’re very popular and have a high market share. Roku’s software is known for being really efficient, and works well even on slow devices. They offer templates for developers looking to build apps.

    ADVANTAGES:

    Connected TVs are slightly less modern, technically speaking, than TVOS and Android TV. So the capabilities are somewhat less fancy. There’s also a big perception bias to overcome. Three years ago, smart TVs were terrible. Now, they work relatively well, but it’s hard to erase that bad first impression. Most people keep TVs for 7-9 years, so those who had a bad first experience are likely to keep that perception for a while (and so are their families and friends). Finally, connected TVs are a closed ecosystem. To develop connected TV apps, you need to get in contact with the business people and sign a contract with every different manufacturer.

    LIMITATIONS:

  • ANDROID TV There are two options when it comes to TVs under the Alphabet umbrella. Android TV is the heavyweight, a set-top box- like software system that can be built directly into both smart TVs and STBs and controlled by remote, phone, tablet, watch, or even voice. There have been small improvements on the Google I/O lately. Android TV is gaining market share almost stealthily. The list of brands using it is growing, as a number of lesser-known or market-specific brands are switching over. Don’t ignore this one, even if you’ve heard less about it.

    Similar to iOS, if you’ve got an Android app, you can use the same code base to easily move over to Android TV. Since Android TV is now on the Sony and Philips TVs, there’s a big and mostly invisible market share. Google doesn’t share numbers, but when you look at Sony and Philips together, the number of devices out there start to add up.

    ADVANTAGES:

    This one hasn’t really caught on in the public’s imagination yet. Most people who have Android TV have it because they bought a Sony TV, for example, and that’s what it came with. Unfortunately, that means the kind of audience running Android TV is the kind that’s less likely to install independent apps.

    LIMITATIONS:

    GOOGLE CAST Google Cast, on the other hand, is hardware, a small HDMI dongle that, when plugged into a TV, connects to a Chromecast app on a device. Since it’s focused on mobile, it’s wisest to start your development from the mobile angle. They had a major SDK revision recently.

    This is a really cheap device. Google Cast doesn’t even have a tuner anymore, it’s just Chromecast embedded in a screen. As a result, the reach is much more than the 25 million reported sold. With the major revision to their SDK, it’s now significantly easier to implement, and the number of devices that are supported is huge. Chromecast and all the Android TVs use Google Cast as well. Vizio, for example, dropped the TV operating system entirely and simply built in Chromecast. The TV and tablet come together.

    Google Cast is a very different way of using your TV. Once people get over the hurdle, it’s a really enjoyable system to use, but that unfamiliar interface is slowing adoption. The audience needs to understand the fundamental concept (the only comparable thing is AirPlay on Apple devices). Fortunately, the number of people familiar with it is growing fast. The most recent 5 million users were racked up just in the last couple months.

    ADVANTAGES:

    LIMITATIONS:

  • XBOX ONE Of the gaming consoles, Xbox is a little more focused on being a general media platform. Over the summer, they switched to the Universal Windows Platform, for development for Windows 10.

    Switching to Windows 10 was a huge leap. The new Universal Windows Platform makes it much, much easier for developers to move apps from other Windows devices to Xbox One. There’s now a similar opportunity as for Apple TV and the Android ecosystem, where you can develop for all of the devices in the ecosystem at once. Apps you build for connected TVs can be launched directly on Xbox. Expect the number of apps to grow significantly in the next year. In addition, 4K