INTX: ‘Skinny,’ Similar Bundles to Be Main Disruptor, Says Vubiquity CEO

“The biggest disruption in the next 12 months” for the media industry will continue to be the “skinny, fat” and other TV station bundles that we’ve seen proliferate over the past year, Vubiquity CEO Darcy Antonellis said May 18 during the Internet & Television Expo (INTX) in Boston.

There will be “a lot more branded direct-to-consumer offers out in the market,” and they will be coupled with continued “advancements that are being made on the distribution side,” she predicted.

“A lot of folks call us disruptive, but we are here to be harnessed,” said Steve Shannon, GM of content and services at Roku, drawing laughs from the other panelists. There will be “many more” skinny bundles on the way, he also predicted, singling out a “super compelling” offering from Charter Communications. Among the companies partnering with Roku is Comcast, which is adding an Xfinity TV partner app to Roku devices this year.

Roku remains the most popular TV streaming platform in the U.S., he said. Backing that up was new research released by Parks Associates at INTX, which had Roku streaming media players accounting for 30% of streaming devices sold in the U.S. from the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016.

Roku’s platform was used in 40 smart TV models that shipped last year and that is growing to 60 across six TV brands this year, Andrew Ferrone, Roku’s VP of pay TV, said at INTX May 17. About 1 million devices including Roku’s platform were sold in 2015, he said.

Roku is seeing “phenomenal” growth and now offers 3,400 apps and its customers streamed 5.5 billion hours of content from its devices last year, said Shannon. It’s expanding internationally and adding its platform to a growing number of smart TVs, he said. It is much cheaper to make Roku’s devices than traditional TV set-top boxes, he also said, telling attendees “we sell them profitably at 39 bucks in retail.”

“The biggest disruption won’t be necessarily technology-driven,” Kevin Hart, CTO and EVP of Cox Communications, said during the same May 18 conference session. “It’s going to be about how we change the game with the customer experience — the in-home experience, the mobile experience, leveraging our networks, our products, our services of the content and the way that we service our customers going forward — to try to meet them where they’re at and where they’re going,” he said.

There won’t be a technological “aha” moment over the next 12 months that will change the media landscape, predicted Tony Werner, EVP and CTO for Comcast. There will be “lots of steady evolution” and all the companies represented on the panel will take more advantage of the available technologies,” he predicted. There will also be “more unique partnerships and relationships start to emerge,” he said, citing his company’s pact with Roku as one example.

Asked how much of a factor he thinks Ultra High-Def (UHD) will be, Werner said “I’m personally more interested” in high dynamic range (HDR). Although 4K is “great,” 8K, 16K and 32K will be even better — “More K is always better,” he said. But up-converted 1080p already “looks really, really good” and HDR “makes a noticeable difference,” he said. Comcast “will not be a roadblock,” but an “enabler,” he said. But more 4K content is clearly needed, he said, adding his company will ship an HDR set-top box July 4 after a trial. What helped sell TVs during the transition from standard definition to HD was that it happened at the same time as the transition from bulky cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs to flat-panel TVs, he added. Consumers are going to buy 4K TV sets largely because the higher resolution is “going to come for free” and there will be more UHD content made available, he predicted.

Higher resolution, HDR and high frame rate combined will make a “nice addition” to TVs, but Discovery Communications CTO John Honeycutt also questioned whether the transition to 4K will be as “revolutionary” as the one from standard definition to HD. Discovery has produced “a few hundred hours” of 4K content already, he said.

Roku shipped a 4K version of its streaming media set-top box last year and it’s “doing very well,” Shannon said. Roku’s platform was also implemented in a 4K TV made by TCL, he said. The 4K products are not much more expensive to make than HD ones, which “tells me that we’re going to move to a point where it’ll be hard to buy a TV that’s not 4K eventually,” he said.

There is, meanwhile, “a lot of interest” in virtual reality, which Discovery has also experimented with, said Honeycutt. “We’re still searching for that consistent user experience in it, but the potential … is interesting for certain types of content,” he said.

Data monetization and interactive advertising, meanwhile, “has to be one of the biggest disruptive spaces there is,” said Honeycutt. But rather than singling out the largest single potential disruptor for the industry over the next year, he cited a major challenge that his company has set for itself over the next few months. Discovery will, over the next year, “move significant portions of our infrastructure out of our own” physical data centers into the cloud — a “virtualized environment,” he said. Its goal is to have 80% of its business applications fully in the cloud in the next 24 months and “we’re six months into that journey,” he said.

(Look here and here for more coverage of INTX from the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance).