The television is still the center of most households and has the enormous potential to bring consumer IoT to the mainstream consumer.
Think back to all those sci-fi movies where someone is standing in front of a big screen swiping and poking at futuristic content and information to command their environment. The companies creating the interfaces for TV have the unique advantage to bring that vision to reality by expanding beyond a content-driven experience to an information and control-driven experience for each household.
TV dominance in flux, consumer IoT poised to cross into mainstream
Right now, TV is still king of the home, but other platforms like mobile and social are quickly gaining in terms of content, views and ad dollars. And by quickly, I mean the high-speed train that is digital content is about to zip by the old TV locomotive.
The TV experience is being challenged by OTT service providers that are no longer bound to a web browser or geared towards cord-cutters. Mainstream consumers are buying streaming devices in droves to consume their content on their big screen TV. Traditional device players in the living room like Set-top Boxes (STBs) and even gaming consoles are losing ground. However, there is a solution that brings converged technologies together into a seamless experience creating tremendous value for users and more sustainable business for service providers. I’m referring, of course, to the intersection of TV and the Smart Home.
Parallel to the challenges faced by the traditional TV experience lies the swelling consumer IoT market. This market is gaining more momentum by the day, but still has a long way to go before mass market adoption. Consumers are challenged to understand the benefits of a Smart Home and why they should pay for new devices and monthly services. By coupling the existing TV experience with the Smart Home experience, MSOs (multiple system operators) and MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) can create a unique value proposition to customers through experience and service integration. This effort will help retain valuable video and broadband customers, as well as provide the opportunity to upsell devices and services for the Smart Home, adding revenue to the bottom line.
How it’s done: Implementation of disparate systems
Broadband/video providers fight for space at the IoT table
Consumer IoT is being dominated by tech companies and super platforms. Nest is by far the most popular brand, and the ecosystems being built by Apple, Google and Amazon are viewed as the glue that will bring various devices to a single experience. MSOs are in the space as well with companies like Comcast and AT&T selling home automation and home security packages. The difference is that MSOs are only making money on the professionally monitored security aspect of the business. The home control and automation products and services are ancillary to that business and therefore not adding to any sort of revolutionary or even evolutionary business line.
What MSOs need to do to have a proper seat at the table is to prove their differentiation to partners and to customers. Being the main service and experience provider for TV and Broadband, they have a unique advantage to build hardware for the home with unified experiences on top of that hardware.
Hubs, gateways, and the apps that control them is where the MSOs need to focus. Comcast isn’t going to build the smart thermostat or smart light that everyone wants, but if they have the home control and management experience down, there is a space for them in the IoT world. And a very important space at that when you think of the consumer behavior data that will be available. Otherwise, broadband providers will just be access pipes for all the services people use and face increasing price pressure with nothing else to differentiate between each other.
If MSOs aren’t going to make smart devices, they need partners. Device manufacturers, much like OTT services, need that pipe and ecosystem to get to the customer. Just like without an app store, there would be no apps. Or without broadband, there would be no Netflix. MSOs already control the pipe to the home and the network within it. Creating an easy way for device manufacturers and users alike to build and add devices to the home is a crucial keystone to the smart home’s success as a market.
Build the experience consumers want
With this ecosystem built, MSOs then need to turn their attention to the experience. Aggregation is key. Being the service provider that brings together all devices will add customer stickiness. Current smart home customers have to deal with multiple apps and experiences. They are yearning for a single system to control their entire home’s environment, including media and hardware.
Of course, creating a seamless aggregation platform comes with incredible challenges as more devices are brought to market every day. By building a scalable Cloud-to-Cloud-to-Home infrastructure, however, MSOs can build the equivalent of an app store for the smart home. A device manufacturer’s cloud and device will fit certain development standards, including communication and security, to be accepted by the smart home ecosystem. Introducing SDKs and cloud architecture that will let devices operate together, yet independent will bring scalability and standardization to the development side of things.
Customers want to plug-n-play, where “play” means “Command and Control” when it comes to smart home devices. Sure, there will be apps on mobile devices, but where else are users spending time? The television. Updating EPGs (electronic programming guides) to include smart home alerts, information and actions right on the TV will tie the experience together. Imagine turning on the TV in the morning to see the news while also seeing that the coffee pot is almost done brewing, the car is charged, the weather for the day is sunny and the traffic for where you are headed is all clear right on one screen. That’s a lot of information, and it requires a big screen.
Consumer IoT on the Big Screen
Infotainment isn’t just for the family minivan
Looking more deeply at the future of TV it’s easy to see that the concept of “infotainment” is coming for many consumers. Microsoft’s Xbox One console offers split view options so you can watch TV while looking at football stats or play a game while being active in a chat with friends. Apple has opened up it’s AppleTV to developers through an app store to allow more than just streaming on the device. Cars have featured systems for years that allow you to control the entertainment and the function of your vehicle all from one, albeit usually terrible, interface. Televisions are more commonly being hooked directly to the web through WiFi or Ethernet as well as having a number of web-connected devices plugged in. MSOs again have the advantage here in that they already own the main experience on the TV! The UI through the STB is used to browse live TV and On Demand content, but can be opened up in all sorts of ways to make way for the smart home. A more user-friendly navigation and information experience will solidify the MSOs as the leading aggregator of the entire home experience.
Tie to Mobile
Mobile will be with us for quite some time. Sounds obvious, but the real future is what some are calling a “No-UI” world where there are no interfaces to interact with at all. Instead, devices react and predict to our presence, our behaviors, our thoughts. Maybe a bit too far fetched for now, so let’s get back to mobile.
Consumers will likely use their mobile device as the primary means for setting up smart home devices. MSOs should be OK with this behavior and optimize for it. Ensuring broadband setup and customization is available via mobile is an important step. Advanced routers like Google WiFi offer many user-friendly features like guest networks, detecting and diagnosing problems, and customizing settings, all from a mobile app. MSOs can utilize this to enhance the broadband experience and train consumers to be more comfortable customizing their home.
The TV will then be the central information center connected to everything from your calendar to your coffee pot. The mobile device, the control pad for it all. Now are we starting to see that sci-fi movie come to life? I think so.
The Smart Home can save the TV business through innovative user experience improvements to the most popular video screen in the house, the big screen TV. MSOs can build app store-like ecosystems for the smart home and become the experience aggregator for commanding and controlling the smart home. The TV is usually on in most US households for over four hours a day displaying content.
As the multitasking generations mature, they won’t be satisfied just looking at one piece of content on their big screen at one time. They want to view content, see the status of their lives and their home all in one place. Mobile will struggle to achieve this seamlessly given the size of the screen. It only makes sense to have a large screen with lots of information that’s 100 percent interactive at the center of everyone’s home. Voice-activated through mobile, intelligent access to your calendar and behaviors all experienced through the devices we have in most rooms of the house, the STB + TV. Disney’s Smart House may become a reality after all.