LG adds Netflix to TVs in a small step with big implications

January 5, 2009

Surely hoping to jump ahead of the CES announcement blizzard that is about to strike later this week, LG and Netflix have announced that LG is releasing the first TV sets that stream Netflix titles directly to the TV, without the help of a separate box (as is the case with the myriad solutions we have already discussed on OmniVideo like Roku, Xbox 360, and even LG Blu-ray players). See Brad Stone’s piece at the New York Times for some more reporterly detail. 

This is a big deal. LG wants to do this because it needs to keep TV prices from the gutter; giving people content that they already have access to — but on the more pleasing screen known as the TV — is a great way to keep prices up.

Netflix obviously wants to do this because in its plans for world domination, offering a service that can serve you across channels (with DVDs and online streams) is a great way to provide the best of the analog and the digital worlds. Even though our own research has shown that the recession is convincing nonsubscribers that they don’t need Netflix, moves like this one certainly reassure existing subscribers that they’re getting their money’s worth.

I make a big deal out of this because of the model change that it represents for both the manufacturers and the content providers. It circumvents cable, it puts CE makers in a new role of content acquirers, and it signals a new way of looking at devices: as conduits through which many services can be delivered. I call this the “many devices, many services” model. With that paradigm in place, expect rapid innovation in products and services. Even in a recession, perhaps especially so.

However, a note of context is in order. A big question I’m hoping to answer with surveys this year is how many people will own Net-connected TVs by the end of the year. It can’t be many. If you imagine that 10% – 12% of US households buy a TV each year, it’s hard to believe that even 10% of them (1% of total) will be Internet-connected. Mostly because there aren’t that many Net-connected TVs on the market. A few from LG, Samsung, HP, Sony, with more likely to be announced this week at CES. And they haven’t sold well to date because there wasn’t much to offer through them other than walled content gardens with a smattering of swimsuit videos and re-runs of Facts of Life

Which is why the next big thing I’m waiting to hear at CES (or if not then at NAB) is a Hulu-connected TV. I’ll let you know when it happens.


Netflix streams through TiVo

October 30, 2008

I recently called Netflix the little engine that could, with its announcement that its streaming content would be available through select Samsung Blu-ray players. 

Well, that little engine made it even further up the hill this week, adding TiVo as a streaming partner, as reported in the NY Times today. The score is now officially Netflix 5, everyone else 1. Meaning that Netflix has 5 different ways to get content into your home. That blows everybody else away.

I spoke earlier this week with Jim Keyes, Blockbuster CEO, on stage at the Forrester Consumer Forum. He made the case that Blockbuster didn’t want to marry itself to one device as iTunes does with the Apple TV. Instead, he wants Blockbuster to be available through any disc device (DVD or Blu-ray) and eventually any digital platform. But he didn’t see the digital platforms ready yet (despite buying MovieLink). And I buy that argument for the most part, but when you see what Netflix is accomplishing, it appears to be single-handedly fueling the market for digital platforms, one streaming partner at a time.


YouTube joins the online TV game late

October 11, 2008

As widely reported yesterday, Google is now going to add full-length TV shows to YouTube. It’s about time. Finally, we can all watch what we really want: MacGyver. See the pilot episode below. Actually, this episode has been online for a month already, and has amassed a whopping 1,023 views. Let’s give MacGyver the Rodney Dangerfield award for Least Respect For An Online TV Debut.

(Note about above video window: this is the pilot episode of MacGyver. But YouTube embedding doesn’t seem to work for full-length episodes so you may get a message saying the video is no longer available, even though it is. Hmmm, YouTube is playing a little catch-up to Hulu.com.)

This is one of those full-circle moments. Remember when the press erroneously labeled Hulu.com (before it was even called Hulu.com) a YouTube killer? This article I dug up from Reuters from March 2007 stopped short of saying “killer” but definitely pitched them as rivals. I went on record in that article disputing that idea:

“It’s not actually going to take away from YouTube because it’s as much about the social experience as the video. So YouTube is going to be fine,” said James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research.

I stand by that statement. Clearly, at 5 billion videos a month, YouTube is doing just fine, responsible for 44% of all videos streamed in the US (according to that NYT article above, but probably closer to 25% of minutes, given the short nature of its clips).

But with the tremendous growth of Hulu.com, ABC.com, and the rest, it’s no surprise YouTube would finally give in and put full episodes on; in higher quality than normal YouTube fare; and with ads before, during, and after (what good are those? as Michael Eisner said on stage last week, “Those aren’t commercials, those are credits”). 

The question I got Friday from a major news outlet was: Can YouTube dominate the online TV space? It’s a valid question but the answer is this: No. 

Certainly not as long as CBS and its properties are the primary TV content featured. It’s not a knock — CBS content can rock — but CBS content is everywhere. You can see it on Joost, you can even come across it on IMDB when searching for “MacGyver” (which I’m sure you do nearly daily).  Oh, yeah, and on CBS.com.

The answer is still no even once other network content shows up there — which I’m sure it will eventually, remember Hulu.com offered itself to YouTube from the beginning, an offer which Google CEO Eric Schmidt smugly declined.

There’s little reason for people already on YouTube to interrupt the site’s social, clip-focused experience to watch a full-length episode. And if you hit the Web knowing you want a particular TV show, you’re as likely to go to its home page as you are to go to YouTube.

I’m not saying YouTube won’t stream millions of TV shows. It will. I’d guess at least 25 million in the month of December, roughly half of what NBC.com or a similar site streams in an average month. But it won’t dominate. So put it this way: YouTube won’t be a Hulu.com killer…

Add your thoughts: will you watch full-length episodes on YouTube? (Other than MacGyver, of course, which we know you’ve already watched there).