It seems that 2010 is going to be the year of Internet Television. With devices coming out of the woodwork to get content onto your TV via the interwebs, the options for receiving content from somewhere OTHER than the cable cartels is quickly growing. There are, however, a few notable surprises happening through this mad rush to gain dominance over your HD window on the world.
First, there is Apple. They have been off their game in this arena even though they ostensibly had the first contender in the market with the Apple TV. Instead of forging new ground, however, Apple pulled an Internet Explorer and simply never updated the device allowing up-and-coming contenders to get the jump on them. Cue the underdogs: Roku and Hulu (If you can call a Internet service created by multiple television network powerhouses an underdog).
The Roku Player
In the beginning, Roku only offered Netflix streaming, but soon added Amazon VOD. Not long after the addition of Amazon VOD, Roku rolled out their developer SDK and Channel store. Although the original Roku SDK was focused on audio and video to a fault, making Internet applications difficult or impossible to develop, recent extensions have increased the versatility of the SDK allowing more application-like channels to be created. One of these new more versatile applications allows Roku owners to stream media from other devices on their home network. With Netflix, Amazon VOD and the ability to Stream media from other devices the Roku player is at 100% feature parity with the Apple TV. When you add in the channel store (read: App store) the Roku easily jumps ahead of the Apple TV. Arguably, the current version of Roku is minimally at 110% feature parity with the Apple TV; add to that the upcoming addition of Hulu Plus and the Roku player’s advantage over the Apple TV goes up considerably.
Hulu Plus, does not compete directly with the Apple TV device but it does compete with the iTunes offerings available on Apple TV. For a $9.99 monthly subscription users of the Hulu Plus subscription service can watch every episode of most network televison, by comparison, with the Apple TV $9.99 per month will allow you to watch exactly 10 episodes of TV per month. Granted there are ads on Hulu Plus and none on iTunes rentals, but when “the average American television viewer is watching more than 151 hours of television per month” I believe most will opt for paying $9.99 with ads on Hulu Plus instead of $149.49 with out ads through iTunes. One could also argue that Hulu Plus does not have the amount of content that iTunes does and you would be correct, but given the price and soon to be nearly ubiquitous distribution of the service on devices you can put money down on Hulu Plus gaining more content very rapidly.
One of the big questions being asked around the internet: “Is Hulu Plus coming to the Apple TV soon?”. Many responses cover the obvious points that Hulu Plus is already on all other iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad), which is usually followed by statements of how Hulu tends to be picky about the devices they allow Hulu Plus to be on. I think that it is more likely that Apple will be the one blocking Hulu from the Apple TV. Strategically speaking it would be a huge win for Hulu Plus to get on Apple TV right now, Hulu would effectively be snatching the subscription model business right out of Apple’s hand.
It seems fairly obvious to me that the subscription service model is going to win out in the long run over the ala cart model at least for television shows and right now Hulu has a lock on that market with Hulu Plus. The question is which device will be delivering that subscription, one of the existing contenders or one of the many announced but not yet released set top boxes? One other thing to consider is what effect will the wildcard of Goolge TV have on this emerging market? Whatever the outcome it is a very exciting time in the Television delivery industry.