Device fragmentation refers to the wide variety of devices that are in use at any given time and occurs when some users are using devices with older versions of an operating system or chipset while others have the latest and greatest.
Much is written about device fragmentation in the mobile device space, but it becomes even more complex when we look at how this affects the delivery of TV and video services. The mobile industry has, for the most part, centred around two operating systems, with comparatively rapid update and upgrade cycles.
On the flip side, the TV industry must contend with multiple device types - operator set-tops, consumer set-tops and CE devices, dongles, smart TVs, games consoles, streamers - as well as multiple operating systems (some proprietary), middleware options and chipsets… We could be looking at up to 100 different platforms! All these variants are being sold, with no clear dominant leader. And the TV screens themselves (some literally bolted to the wall) are not replaced at anywhere near the same rate as phones which means they are more likely to provide sluggish performance over time.
To get to the TV screen the industry is unusually fragmented. It’s a murky landscape for operators and content providers to wade through when working out how to get their content to consumers - are they really expected to develop a service or version of their application for all possible permutations of device and operating system?
Device fragmentation in the TV industry isn’t a new phenomenon - we’ve been talking about this for some time. Ten years ago the BBC declared it wouldn't build custom applications for (Smart TV) device manufacturers - the realisation at that point that “the industry has a long way to go before it sees wholesale adoption of a single standard that will allow publishers to reach a wider audience” was clear. And it still holds true today - and it has become worse as more TV apps have exploded onto the market.
Before the broader development of TV apps it was annoying, but could be dealt with. Now we have disaggregation in the app space. First it was just one version of the app required, but now you need upwards of 30 apps for all the various platforms you need to reach - this is the critical pain point and it’s not temporary.
For OTT content providers who want to increase reach and get as many eyeballs on their programming it's a complicated world and not as simple as making apps for mobile devices. It’s important to recognise that high value content consumption is made on the big screen and it’s the hardest to deliver to. To deliver the updates required at the fast rate of app innovation is harder than it’s ever been.
And it’s not just the impact on content providers we should consider. Consumers are also impacted, primarily from a longevity perspective, when it comes to the TV they invest in to hang on their wall. Imagine in a few years the expensive Smart TV that has been mounted to your living room wall stops functioning as the apps stop working or drop off completely. Not all apps work on all devices in the same way. We don’t typically change our TV as often as we do our mobile devices, even though TVs are getting outdated and under performing quicker than before. The CPU in a TV is much lower spec than in mobile devices, but it is expected to live for longer!
Crucially, there is a way to overcome the seemingly insurmountable fragmentation issue. We look to the cloud for the answer. Some devices will always have apps written to directly - for example the $179+ Apple TV which is a very high-end streamer box - but we see a future where the majority of TV content applications are virtualized in the cloud for delivery to any device, providing a much simpler and cost-effective way for content providers to reach the eyeballs they need to. For consumers, the issue of out-of-date apps disappears, and while their TV may become ‘dumb’ again, the very nice piece of glass they have mounted to the wall won’t become the barrier to great TV content. TVs tend to be lower cost, and when they are often not replaced for 8 years or so, they quickly become resource constrained. On the other hand, the cloud continues to update – so we can complement the device resources with cloud resources. TV gets better and better!
The ActiveVideo approach to cloud-based OTT app delivery is AppCloud. AppCloud lives in the public cloud and delivers apps from a virtualized Android platform, interfacing with a light-weight device client that works on any GPU-enabled set-top, running any operating system.