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October 9, 2015

Our Four Channel Future

Remember the four big networks? Even if you’re a millennial, you probably do. Just a couple of decades ago, most people got the bulk of their entertainment content from one of four broadcast television networks.

Do you feel nostalgic for the simplicity of the broadcast TV era? If your answer is yes, there’s good news. A recent development is signaling a future in which NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX are replaced by tech titans like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon.

Starting on 10/29, Amazon will stop global sales of Apple TV and Google Chromecast, because they don’t support the retail giant’s Prime Video service. The New York Times writes that the move escalates “the entertainment battle between the major tech companies.”

Amazon says they’re making the move to “avoid customer confusion,” because its Prime members pay for streaming video as part of their $99 fee. However, it’s unlikely that streaming video is the only factor. Amazon’s decision came hot on the heels of Apple’s and Google’s announcements of updated video players. This next wave of players will disrupt the entertainment landscape by bringing apps to our TV screens.

The latest Apple TV is powered by the new tvOS, which delivers an app-based, smartphone-style experience to the living room big screen. This is hugely consequential, because it represents the first true connection between the iPhone and Apple TV. It opens the door to high-quality gaming on your television without the need for an Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo console. It also means developers can create native TV and mobile versions of the same app that allow consumers to switch between the touchscreen and big screen with ease.

Business conflicts are inevitable for companies that provide a wide variety of software, physical products and services. Accordingly, major tech platforms like Apple and Amazon pursue a breadth of goals out of necessity. This creates a cycle that results in more growth and more conflict, so it’s important to track the responses and resolutions prompted by these disputes.

Might Apple and Google respond by removing the Kindle apps from their app store? Could they negotiate deals with Amazon to get their products put back on its virtual shelves? Or will they compete by seeking exclusive content deals with TV networks and movie studios?

Whatever the outcome, Amazon’s policy shift shows that border skirmishes between platforms will be both pivotal and unpredictable.

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