As Netflix rises, Roku drafts nicely behind

November 3, 2008

Every time I turn around, it seems Netflix is announcing something new. These past few weeks my little fingers have typed furiously to keep up with Netflix, which I will now refer as the company formerly known as the DVD-by-mail company. Two weeks ago, I wrote about Samsung adding Netflix to some of its Blu-ray players. Then there was the announcement that Netflix had finally enabled streaming on the Mac (okay, okay, Intel-based Macs, but still). Then there was the revelation that said company would provide HD streaming on the Xbox 360 and other devices. Finally, I posted just last Thursday that Netflix was partnering with TiVo to expand its streaming to yet another device. (Convenience note: you can mouseover these links to see the text of the page without actually clicking on them)

Just remembering typing it all inflames my carpal tunnel. Now that I’ve had some time to think this through, I’m still impressed with Netflix. But wait a minute. In all this, there’s one definite winner behind all the announcements: Roku.

btw, this is not an ad, this is just the most attractive picture I found on the website: I don't get paid anything if you click on this and order

Yes, I’m talking about the maker of the $99 streaming video box that in my back-of-the-envelope estimations has probably sold more than 50,000 units in the six months since its launch. This is the box that I proclaimed the winner in the over-the-top set-top-box shootout I wrote in July. But secretly, after writing that report, I started to fear for the box’s survival in a world where Netflix is off enabling every other device you’re thinking of buying this holiday season.

Then the recession hit. Follow my logic here: you hear that Microsoft Xbox 360 Live members can stream Netflix to their TV sets. That sounds cool enough to try, you are one of nearly 9 million Netflix subscribers aftera ll, but then you add up the additional costs — $199 for the low-end Xbox 360 Arcade plus a $7.99 a month subscription. Add that up for a year and you have $295. (Of course, the plan from Microsoft is that you already own an Xbox and this motivates you to sign up for the Xbox 360 Live Gold Membership, but just humor me.)

So you then hear that select Blu-ray players from Samsung and LG now allow for Netflix streaming. You were considering a Blu-ray player anyway, so you look into these and find they retail for $349 to $399. Then you hear that TiVo will offer Netflix, but you have to get the $299 TiVo HD at a minimum, not to mention the monthly service charges. You’re starting to feel daunted, so you go to Netflix.com and see all these options on one page so you can figure out which one is best for you.

You find the Netflix Ready Devices page, which shows you all of these options, and what do you see? Roku listed at the top, at a nice $99 price. Oh, and by the way, it’s the only one that comes with built-in wireless connectivity for those who don’t have ethernet in the living room. Especially in a recession, the Roku seems like a low-risk option.

I shared this line of logic with Tim Twerdahl, VP of Consumer Products at Roku, an ex-Netflix guy on Friday. I could practically hear the smile on his face over the phone as he agreed with my logic. Then he confirmed it: “Our sales are up dramatically in October.” And that in a recession.

Of course, the point of all the other boxes is that they do other things, not just Netflix. The Xbox does games, TiVo does DVR, the other guys do Blu-ray. When I shared this concern with Tim, he responded very confidently that I should stay tuned. What I have long been calling the Netflix/Roku box will soon shrug off the Netflix moniker by adding other premium content. This will only drive up sales on this box even more. Soon it will outsell the Roku Soundbridge home audio device that never really got past 100,000 users in four years of selling. There’s a business in this box; Roku is here to stay.


Samsung adds Netflix to latest Blu-ray players

October 23, 2008

We’re witnessing the one dramatic change in the world of physical media. Now Samsung has joined LG in making Blu-ray players that also stream Netflix movies and TV shows. This Netflix strategy is the little engine that could:

  • People first said it was weak because the content was so second-string. Netflix has recently fixed that by adding Starz and some Disney movies. 
  • Some complained that a dedicated $99 box from Roku (though priced to sell), wasn’t enough to move the market. However the LG Netflix/Blu-ray player showed that there was real depth to the strategy.
  • The deal with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 to put Netflix content in the game console proved there’s a true multi-platform play there.
  • Now Samsung’s entry shows that this is going to become a big deal across multiple players in the CE and computing world.

Lessee, Netflix 4, everybody else, 1.

With Steve Jobs again this week referring to the Apple TV as a “hobby” in order to downplay previous expectations, this leaves Netflix clearly in the driver’s seat when it comes to over-the-top delivery to the TV. Maybe not in volume yet, but it will.

The biggest issue here is what this means for cable. Netflix has set its sights not on Blockbuster or even on iTunes, but on Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner. The Netflix solution pulls content automatically from your DVD rental queue, provides an easier-to-use interface than VOD, and now has as much good content as a typical VOD system, this makes cable cord-cutting that much more possible.

This Netflix move could prove to be the most important wildcard of 2008. Now if only there wasn’t a recession hanging over these Blu-ray players

Are you Netflixing your TV? Will you? Do tell.


More on Blu-ray in a recession – forecast down 25%

October 23, 2008

According to this article from Jacqueline Emigh at BetaNews, Parks Associates (technically a competitor, but a respectable one so I’ll give them their props) has reduced its forecast for standalone Blu-ray players this year to to 4.3 million globally or 2.2 million in the US.

This comes as I’ve been writing about Blu-ray prices falling to $199 for the first time and the economy’s effect on home video overall. First of all, I’ll say that Forrester has never produced a forecast for standalone Blu-ray players so I’m not in a position to comment on the specific number, however it is interesting to note that this new forecast puts the Parks number in line with the Jupiter Research number from earlier this year. (Jupiter Research, as you may know, was a competitor until just a few months ago, we now are one family, which is great as they are some smart folks.) Jupiter had predicted approximately 3 million total Blu-ray homes in the US by the end of this year, on top of just under 1 million last year, which comes out to something north of 2 million in sales this year. So the new Parks numbers line up with the Jupiter numbers. I’m inclined to believe both. (It is important to note that both these numbers are far short of the projections Blu-ray manufacturers are working from.)

The most interesting question is whether PS3 will now have a more cannibalistic effect on standalone Blu-ray sales or less of one. 

The thinking goes like this: PS3s used to be the cheapest way to get a Blu-ray player, and it also happened to play games. However, now that Blu-ray standalone players are so cheap, that is no longer the case. Is it possible that people will postpone PS3 purchases in favor of a $199 Blu-ray player, thinking they can upgrade to the PS3 when the economy improves? or will they instead go from standalone players, spend a few extra bucks to get a PS3, and pat themselves on the back for getting a system that can do gaming and video?

I doubt either will occur, actually. Instead, people in the market for the PS3 will still get one, possibly with fewer accessories, but they weren’t in the market for a standalone player anyway so the effect is not cannibalistic. People in the market for a standalone Blu-ray player will do one of two things: either move downmarket to a $199 or $229 model or just postpone the purchase for next year, assuming that prices will only go lower. In the meantime, the upconverting DVD player they bought last year for $50 will do them just fine.

What are you going to do? Did you plan to buy a Blu-ray player or PS3? What will you do now?