Amazon and Comcast Smart TVs – Today’s Battles are About Platforms, not Hardware

by Paul Erickson | Sep. 20, 2021

The news of impending smart TVs from two very different ends of the video spectrum – Amazon and Comcast - is indicative of the rapid changes that have taken place in video consumption and delivery over the past few years, and where the market is now headed.

The balance of power in the US video environment has evolved, along with the nature of video consumption by consumers – including how, what, and where they watch video. Parks Associates’ Q1 2021 consumer data underscores that smart TVs are now the most-adopted streaming video device for at-home viewing in US broadband households, actively used in 56% of all broadband households. While the TV has been a focus for providers in the past, with smart TV adoption now surpassing half of all households it reinforces their role as the most pivotal piece of any home entertainment strategy.

Our data also reveals that streaming subscriptions have already surpassed traditional pay TV subscriptions in US households and now 80% of all US broadband households have a streaming service, and the three most-used operating systems on the devices consumers watch video on the most, are Roku, Samsung Tizen, and Amazon Fire TV in that order. These powerhouse players collectively comprise 65% of consumers’ most-utilized video devices. None of them come from the traditional service provider, pay TV set-top box, or content provider sectors. 

The new smart TV product line launches are from contrasting players – one from the traditional service provider fold and one of the aforementioned newer entrants – that both see the smart TV as an essential device platform to have a presence on:

  • Comcast is attempting to cross the divide from traditional service provider to consumer streaming platform provider with its new XClass smart TVs. The XClass line is the service provider and media giant’s foray into extending its X1 set-top box and streaming media device platform to the popular smart TV form factor. The TVs will utilize Comcast’s own voice assistant, and may bundle a certain length of free or discounted Comcast content such as Peacock Premium to incentivize buyers.
  • Amazon’s new Omni series of smart TVs is the e-commerce giant’s first foray into TV, and a step to take direct control over its Fire TV platform’s fortunes in the increasingly-important smart TV market. Far-field Alexa voice assistance and audio integration with Amazon’s Echo smart speakers are among the Omni line’s same-brand integrated features. The Omni series provides another foothold for Fire TV, Alexa, Prime Video, and other Amazon services, products, and standards in the home.

Without diving too deeply into the products themselves, the greater trend that is noteworthy with these product launches is that whether it is these two parties’ platforms, or Roku TV, Google TV, Samsung Tizen, LG WebOS, Vizio SmartCast, or others, the “battle for the living room” is no longer necessarily about devices themselves, but increasingly about the platform or operating system that brings together multiple services into the single consumer consumption experience.

The disaggregation of content away from traditional pay TV services and bundles, and towards today’s streaming-centric nature of content consumption, has shifted the point of aggregation away from service providers – to the devices themselves. Consumers are rebundling services into their own personal bundles of content, and the device platform ultimately controls how well all of that content can be searched, discovered, and consumed by the viewer.

Today, that ability to control that aggregation, from user experience to personalization to content access to the ability to leverage advertising and measurement data, is thus in the hands of the parties that control the platforms being used. The most significant beachhead in the home video consumption experience is the smart TV, and the most significant element of the smart TV to control is the platform.  At the same time, it’s important to note that 72% of US broadband households view video on multiple device platforms, and 40% view video on all device platforms.

We are now seeing the progression of this platform arms race, with ecosystem players across CE devices, content, e-commerce, smart home, and consumer technology in general all vying for dominance of this significant point of consumption, control, and customer data in the home.

The competition among these parties to provide better, faster, higher-performing, super-aggregated, and more intelligently personalized experiences in an effort to gain long-term consumer engagement and loyalty, ultimately benefits TV manufacturers as well as consumers.

2022 promises to be a bountiful year for consumers shopping for smart TVs, given the aggressive pace of platform competition and what’s in store from TV manufacturers for announcement at the upcoming CES in January.

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