Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Who are the players in the Battle for the Living Room?

Fritz & Laban watching TVImage by Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi via FlickrThe battle for the living room is a phrase used to describe the tussle to control household’s TV screens. The TV screen is certainly the largest screen in a house and many believe it is in the most influential. It is likely the TV screen that families plan activities like holidays, house moves and family insurance in front of.

The battle for the living room interests digital marketers because the TV set is now a digital channel. There are connected TVs capable of internet interaction, set-top boxes like Tivo (who recently entered into an agreement with Virgin Media) that give TVs some internet capability and there are game consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo recently admitted that one of the flaws of the now declining Wii was its poor internet experience. Expect Nintendo’s Project Cafe – which we’ll hear more about at E3 – to try and make amends.

Another easy example of the internet coming to TV is YouTube. YouTube Leanback has been optimised for TV set consumption.

There is more than control of the TV set that is at play in the Battle for the Living Room. The convergence of devices is also crucial. While the TV is being used to watch TV many families now use mobile or tablet devices to check the internet. You just have to watch Twitter while a long-form program or sports match is on. Big news is still capable of breaking Twitter’s previous all-time high scores for volume. It’s not just the largest screen in the house that matters in this battle; it’s the smallest screens too.

So, who are the major players in the Battle for the Living Room?

At this point in time I only see three players strong enough to be significant by themselves. Two of them will work with allies; one of which will need more allies than the other. One is likely to try going it alone.

The loner: Apple

Strengths: iOS, iTunes, Mobile
Weakness: Rocky relationships, weak cloud presence, no console

I think Apple will try and win this battle by themselves. Apple are certainly a powerhouse in both mobile and tablet. iTunes provides digital content to handsets, Macs and PCs and although they’re yet to make the leap to the cloud the rumours around iCloud/CloudMe suggest that that deficiency may soon be corrected.

Apple does have Apple TV. The little unit seems to bubble on by itself and we occasionally hear about it at big days. Don’t discount Apple TV.

One of the challenges Apple may face is their relationship with hardware companies. Apple are suing Samsung and Samsung are counter-suing. As it happens, Samsung provides many components to Apple and if the on-going lawsuits threaten that relationship they will certainly make TV-sized hardware alliances less likely.

If Apple applies the same moderation rules to any TV services that it "helps with" as it has done to iAds and the AppStore then I predict many frustrated agencies and production companies.

The gamesmaster: Microsoft

Strengths: Xbox Live, Kinect, relationships with ad agencies
Weaknesses: Windows Phone 7 adoption, Bing adoption, brand concerns

Microsoft’s big advantage in the battle for the living room is the Xbox 360 and the Kinect. The Kinect, in particular, is impressive and gives the internet an eye into the living room. It’s already theoretically possible to target ads (produced via the Xbox 360) based on logos the Kinect recognises (though Microsoft isn’t allowing this) and there are studies showing how emotional states can be detected via body language that the Kinect can read. Imagine that; digital ads targeted by demographic and emotional state.

It is possible to watch the TV – content originally produced for the TV, anyway – via the Xbox. For example, in the States you can watch Hulu via Xbox Live and Hulu Plus has just launched.

Microsoft need Windows Phone 7 to be successful. In my opinion the OS is better than the sales figures show. What’s going on? I fear it might be the “Windows” brand. Some of my semi-tech friends aren’t up to date with the world shattering differences between versions 6 and 7 of Microsoft’s phone presence but they do know they want to avoid Windows on their phone. However, this could change and I think many of us will look to the Nokia and Microsoft deal with great interest. Bing will also be taking up residence in RIM devices according to news from BlackBerry World 2011 today.

Windows for PCs is in a far better shape. It does compete with Apple in the laptop space but still has plenty of marketshare. Windows netbooks are common. Companies like Asus produce Windows 7 laptops with revolving touch screens that easily turn into tablets.

Although it is tempting to suggest that Bing will never beat Google we should remember that Microsoft has been building user IDs for far longer than Google. For example, everyone with a Hotmail address is someone Microsoft has a relationship with. That’s the tactic they’re using with Windows Phone 7; they’re not asking consumers to create a new account, they’re just using Windows Phone 7 has the device that manages the mobile coordination of people’s mobile/social presence. That same tactic may well extend via Live accounts and connected/Xbox TV sets.

The diplomat: Google

Strengths: Cloud, YouTube, Android
Weakness: Alliances required, weak Google TV, customer service

Google is also a contender in the battle for the living room. Android is a success on mobile phones and the search giant will be doing everything it can to make sure Android 3.0 is a success for tablets too.

Google’s very strong in the cloud but rather weak on hardware. This is where we might see the first of the key alliances – Sony. Okay, right now Sony is throwing subpoenas at Google in order to get hold of hacker data. The recent trouble with user data at PSN and SOE is not likely to persuade Sony to spend any less efforts in tracking down hackers and crackers so I don’t imagine this legal conflict will go away. Despite that; PlayStation 3 gaming consoles were once scheduled to upgrade to Google TV devices at one point and it’s perhaps only the faltering of Google TV that will delay that.

Google TV 1.0 did not take off. One of Google’s allies Logitech certain felt that failure as they were left a fat inventory of unsold and expensive Google TV set top boxes. Google TV is far from gone, though, and there are plenty of rumours that suggest Google have learnt from the first attempt and has made the very wise decision to morph Android 3.0 into something that could support TV as well. Imagine that; an OS for tablets, smartphones and TV sets. Google encourages us to think of Android as the OS for devices without keyboards and the forthcoming Chrome OS as the OS for devices with keyboards.

Although Google may not be a brand house holds think of in relation to TV - YouTube certainly is.

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