A smart TV with apps.
Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

TV makers are looking beyond streaming to stay relevant

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Friday, we’re looking at what’s next for smart TVs, and sharing suggestions for what to read, watch and play this long weekend.

The search for TV’s next killer app

TV makers have some reason to celebrate these days: Streaming has officially surpassed cable and broadcast as the most popular form of TV consumption; smart TVs are increasingly replacing external streaming devices; and the makers of these TVs have largely figured out how to turn those one-time purchases into recurring revenue streams, thanks to ad-supported services.

Now what? TV makers have been raking in ad dollars with their own free, ad-supported streaming channels, which are directly integrated into their TV’s programming guides to present free streaming channels right next to broadcast TV networks.

  • Just this week, Samsung announced that its ad-supported TV Plus service had been used to stream close to 3 billion hours over the past 12 months, twice as much as during the prior year.
  • Samsung is doubling down on this trend with additional channels and investments into exclusive content.
  • Roku is doing the same thing, and is getting ready to debut its “Weird Al” movie in November (a trailer dropped this week).
  • Vizio, meanwhile, is adding a bunch of Scripps channels to its ad-supported lineup.
  • However, there’s only so much money for originals in ad-supported video, and marketers have been pulling back in light of the ongoing inflation.
  • Without those originals, every smart TV maker pretty much offers the same free channels from the same two or three aggregators, in addition to the paid subscription services that are standard on every device these days.

What TV makers need is a new killer app. Consumer electronics companies have for some time toyed with the idea of using TV for all kinds of additional purposes, including gaming, smart home functionality and fitness. Ad-supported video took priority over those use cases over the past few years, but now, TV brands need new ways to differentiate their devices.

Home control and security have seen consistent growth throughout the pandemic, however, and there’s no indication of a slowdown in that market segment.

  • Plume’s data shows that the average number of Wi-Fi-connected security cameras grew by 55% between the first half of 2021 and 2022.
  • Smart doorbell installs were up 43%, and smart lights saw a 25% growth rate.
  • That makes these gizmos at least as popular as many entertainment devices, with smart speakers up 24%, and smart TVs growing by 22%.
  • Making TVs work better with smart home tech could be an easy way for TV makers to differentiate their sets from the competition.

Turning the TV into the most useful screen in the house holds a lot of promise for the industry. To truly embrace this trend, TV makers might have to take some bold bets and be willing to push the envelope on what’s possible in the living room.

  • One example: Roku recently filed a patent application for using the Wi-Fi received by TV sets, smart speakers and other devices as a kind of force field to monitor the house for movements and detect possible intruders.
  • It’s a technology that Sonos has been exploring as well, and early experiments seem to be promising: The smart speaker maker has been able to detect gestures simply by monitoring Wi-Fi disturbances with 90% to 99% accuracy, it revealed in a patent application last year.

Whether via simple security camera feeds, or futuristic Wi-Fi motion detection, the next killer app for TVs may just be the home itself.

— Janko Roettgers

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#TGIF: How to spend your weekend

Not all free-to-play games last forever — The Verge: The success of the free-to-play business model has become a central narrative in the trajectory of the game industry and in particular the explosive growth of mobile gaming. But it’s not all meteoric rises and massive revenue gains. A new report at The Verge examines the unfortunate aftermath of free-to-play hits shutting down in the wake of Nintendo’s planned shuttering of Dragalia Lost. With single-player titles, you can always revisit them, but when free-to-play games get shut down, they’re gone for good — taking players’ hard-earned progress and paid-for cosmetics with them.

“House of the Dragon” — HBO: Despite what the internet may tell you about the lasting legacy of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” the worldbuilding of author George R.R. Martin remains unrivaled, and the engrossing political drama on “House of the Dragon” is yet more proof. The prequel series, adapted from Martin’s “Fire & Blood” and focused on the Targaryen war of succession, premiered to a record 10 million viewers in its first episode last month, while last week’s follow-up actually increased the show’s viewership to 10.2 million. A second season has already been ordered, and it’s clear why: The world of Westeros is rich in lore, and “House of the Dragon” is so far doing a great job of teasing it out in new and unique ways.

“Rings of Power” — Prime Video: While HBO is riding high on the success of “House of the Dragon,” Amazon is trying its hand at the arguably even trickier task of reviving the high fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” in a new mass media format. The Warner Bros. film trilogy is one of the most beloved adaptations of all time, and the expectations for the “Rings of Power” TV series, which is set thousands of years before the films, are mixed, with many fans wondering if it might flop without strong enough threads tying it back to Frodo Baggins and crew. But early reviews are positive, and Amazon spent a staggering $715 million on the series’ licensing rights and first-season budget. Let’s hope it was money well spent.

The Last of Us Part I — PlayStation 5: The video game industry’s tried-and-true practice of repackaging old products and marketing them with nostalgia is out in full force with Friday’s release of The Last of Us Part I. It’s a remake of a 9-year-old game, which already has its own remastered version, with a retail price of $70. The title, released as a kind of swan song to the PS3 back in 2013, is heralded as one of the best single-player narrative games of all time. But it’s also an open question of whether it justifies its own cost.

The new remake, which builds on the 2014 remaster of the game with a major visual overhaul for the PS5 and other small tweaks and changes, is certainly aimed at diehard fans. That makes it hard to recommend, especially without the multiplayer component of the original. That is unless you never played the original. If this would be your first time taking the reins of Joel and Ellie in their post-apocalyptic zombie adventure, it’s definitely worth the steep price tag. For everyone else, perhaps it’s best waiting until the game hits PlayStation Plus at some point in the future.

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to entertainment@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Tuesday.

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