Content producers also license shows separately for different platforms–television, PC, and mobile devices. And streaming content from the Internet presents technical difficulties. For example, a user who wants to go back a few seconds to catch a missed line of dialogue often faces a frustrating delay as the content is fetched and buffered anew. Roku’s new products include an Instant Replay feature that stores content for a brief period in order to make the experience smoother.
Like some of the other companies in the field, Roku also offers an application programming interface that allows anyone to create applications for its players. In Roku’s case, this includes applications that are essentially channels dedicated to specific topics, which allows communities to build up around sometimes unexpected offerings. For example, Krall says, a user-created channel that broadcasts in the Telugu language, which is spoken in parts of India, has proven popular among the company’s customers. Krall hopes that opportunities for independent developers will be another factor that draws users to Internet-connected television.
Many companies see an Internet connection as key to the future of television. Last week, Samsung launched a new website with an app store for its Internet-connected televisions. Kris Narayanan, vice president of digital marketing for Samsung North America, says the company has been pursuing a “connective experience” whereby the Internet is used to allow sharing of content between different devices.
Sanjay Reddy, CEO of a company called LiveMatrix that tracks live Web-streamed events and a former executive at Gemstar-TV Guide, a company that licensed interactive program guides, says consumers will end up using their home entertainment systems to consume a mixture of content. They’ll want traditional programming, content from the Internet, and some nonvideo Internet content too. But products will need smooth interfaces and compelling apps to make users feel they’re getting the content they want, he adds.
“What is the user going to choose in terms of the way they keep track of this or interact with it or discover this content?” Reddy says. “That’s really what the battle is. It’s thinking about what’s the ‘start’ page, because that’s how people decide where to go.”
Reddy believes that Internet-connected TV solutions haven’t taken off so far because of the limited memory of set-top boxes. This is now changing, he says, because more data can be stored in the cloud rather than on the devices themselves. However, Reddy says, “it’s going to take time” before it’s commonplace for users to pull in content from the Internet.