If you want to find out what’s happening in connected TV, the app developers are always the best people to speak to. They’re the ones who sit between the various platforms and the connected TV publishers, which gives them the inside track on the relationship on everything from consumer usage rates to product road maps. That’s why VAN caught up with Petr Mazanec, CTO of Mautilus, an app development company based in the Czech Republic, who provided some interesting insights on the CEE Connected TV market.
Mazanec is excited about where connected TV is at today. “The problem with the first generation of applications was that the TV hardware was very slow and under-powered. So when a typical iPad user looks at connected TV for the first time, they were usually surprised at how slow they are. But this is really changing. For example, if you look at the latest generation of Samsung TVs, or the latest Philips, they have added a lot more power to the 2013 devices. I’m not entirely sure why they went with such poor hardwarein the past, but now it really is changing,” he says.
So who are Mautilius currently working with? “It really depends,” says Mazanec. “In this TV application and streaming world the typical customer is an OTT provider, because most of the applications you currently see on connected TV are Hulu or Netflix style applications, and we have similar applications in the Czech Republic.”
He adds, “At the beginning of the year, there was approximately 21 Czech applications for smart TVs, but now it’s increasing and a lot more people are becoming interested. We’re seeing a lot of interest from movie distributors who were once redistributing movies for DVD and Blu-Ray. They’re now looking at OTT and Smart TVs as another channel. Then there’s the telcos, such as Telefonica, T-Mobile and Vodafone.”
Traditional Media Making the Move to Connected TV
“We do also have some other clients such as radio broadcasters who like to have a visual component where they can, for example, show the album cover of the song that’s coming next etc,” he adds. The Czech print media companies have also started to take an interest in creating apps, although their traditional publishing model might need tweaking if it’s to succeed on the living room screen. “They realise that it’s another platform they need to be on, although it’s going to take time to work out their strategy because nobody’s expecting people to read long articles on their TV. However, they do have some video content plus a lot of photographs that they can’t use in print editions that can work well on TV, along with things like podcasts.”
But what about the consumers? Are Czech people actually connecting their smart TVs? While Mazanec is keen to stress it’s still early days, he says that the fact that IPTV has already been established there will speed up adoption, especially in the larger cities. Many people, he says, are already receiving everything over IP, so it won’t be a huge leap forward for them to use another IP-delivered platform.
But there will need to be a sufficiently strong platform in place before consumers change their behaviour in any meaningful way, so it’s important that any platform makes life easy for developers. So which of the smart TV platforms is currently the most developer-friendly? “Samsung,” says Mazanec, without a moment’s hesitation.
“When every developer joins the company to develop for television, each one of them gets a Samsung Smart TV. So on each table there is typically a notebook and a Samsung Smart TV, and this is the primary device to develop against. They’re the fastest, most friendly, and have the best SDK and the best emulator, and everything – including things like the installation – is very easy. Samsung also has the best developer support. Then the second best would be LG, followed by Philips, although this is also partly because they have offices in Prague so they can offer some face to face support.”
Is the Smart TV Alliance Helping to Create Standards?
But what about the Smart TV alliance? Is it helping with connected TV’s fragmentation problem? “I don’t really think the Smart TV Alliance is as much about creating unified standards, but it’s more of a unified opposition against Samsung because Samsung is dominating the TV market,” he says.
“To be perfectly honest we’re happy with the situation as it is now,’ he adds. “From the very beginning we haven’t used the direct APIs provided by the manufacturers because they really bind us and force us to use their SDK and their platform, so we’ve always done things in such a way that it works across more platforms. I’m not sure if it [the Smart TV Alliance] will really help because developing the app for different platforms isn’t a problem if you have experienced developers. But framentation does cause a few different issues. First, there’s the video streaming as there’s always a long discussion between us and the TV manufacturer about the proper configuration. It isn’t standardised at all, so if they change a few parameters it can break the application. Then there’s are also various types of DRM protection, which is often different on each of the platforms. The QA process is another issue, which we actually like very much as we see it as free testing. But if you have four different UIs for four different vendors, it takes some time as they all have different demands.”
Smart Box or Smart TV?
As the market matures, does Mazanec think that we’re going to see dumb screens with smart boxes attached, or will everything baked into a smart TV? “I don’t know,” he says. “But I think if I’m a typical customer and I find myself changing my TV every three or four years, I’m not going to be too interested in complicating things with additional boxes if I find my TV is working fine. However, if my TV is slow and I can’t access the applications I want, then I might start to look at some boxes. But I think most people would like to be able to just switch on their TV and be able to enjoy the content.”