Is HTML5 the Future of TV Apps?

TV apps are becoming big business, with forecasters predicting the connected device market will be a $1.4 billion market by 2014. But until now, developers who wanted to reach consumers on connected TVs and other living room devices have had to deal with an increasingly fragmented market; most CE manufacturers require different formats for building applications on TVs.

At today’s GigaOM Pro Bunker Session, attendees and panelists agreed that standards are necessary to push the TV app market forward, and that development efforts might get a whole lot simpler if more CE manufacturers and developers turn to HTML5 as the default platform for delivery to connected devices.

“Where will [apps] be? They’ll be everywhere. Everyone will want to offer an app platform. You name it, and there will be an app or widget platform,” Roy Satterthwaite, SVP of Americas for Opera said at the event. But with an infinite choice of platforms to develop for — including Google TV, Boxee, Roku and others — companies that want to build TV apps might have a difficult time deciding where to spend their resources.

That’s where HTML5 comes in. Rather than building discreet apps for each individual CE platform, some developers and device manufacturers are looking to the nascent web standard as a way to reach multiple platforms without overextending themselves.

David Hyman, CEO of music streaming service MOG, said that going forward his company is betting big on HTML5 for the connected TV space. While MOG has built an app for Roku, Hyman said that going forward, MOG is developing for HTML5-supported devices only, rather than having to develop a number of one-off apps.

“When you develop for lots of platforms, you’re constantly battling with the issue of prioritizing resources. At this point we’re just betting on HTML5,” Hyman said. With the ability to reach multiple platforms, including Google TV and Samsung-connected devices, he said writing in HTML5 gives MOG the ability to iterate and improve on existing apps, without having to rewrite multiple apps over and over.

Satterthwaite also supports HTML5 as a standard development platform, saying that in the end he believes that “the web will win” in the connected TV space. His employer, Opera, has made a big push behind app development for connected devices, with the release of a “content development kit” that uses HTML5 for building web apps for the 10-foot, TV-sized experience.

Other CE manufacturers are also jumping on the HTML5 bandwagon for app development. Roku VP of marketing Chuck Seiber said his company was supporting HTML5-based development for apps on its broadband set-top boxes. “We support HTML5 and see a migration in that direction. We see major content providers beginning to leverage HTML5 and we will continue to support it,” Seiber said.

And Microsoft (s MSFT) has made a big push behind the web standard, even extending that to applications that run on its Xbox 360 gaming console. The recent implementation of ESPN3 video on the game system takes advantage of HTML5 rather than relying on Silverlight’s proprietary Smooth Streaming technology.

For developers, the adoption of HTML5 as a standard should boost the ease with which they can not only build applications, but how they can update them. One of the major problems for publishers like Netflix (s NFLX) is the ability to keep a common user interface between between different devices, when each implementation requires its own update.

That’s one of the reason MOG’s Hyman says one-off app implementations are a non-starter for his company. “HTML5 allows us to change the UI layer without changing the guts of the application,” he said. By doing so, MOG can keep a common look and feel with the ability to “write once” and reach multiple devices.

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