New solutions for the new era of TV interfaces

Consumers are now confronted with a rapidly expanding universe of video programming choices, and it will take more than a five-button remote control to efficiently navigate all this content. As I discuss in a new report at GigaOM Pro (subscription required), a new user interface for the video viewing experience is becoming inevitable.

Just about every company in the video entertainment ecosystem has a stake in such a development. Content producers need to have outlets for their (often expensive) productions that can provide enough return on investment to allow them to stay in business. Publishers and distributors of this content need effective ways to deliver it to consumers. Television manufacturers depend on the consumer demand for video entertainment to create a market for their products.

As a result, different companies are establishing different routes to what they believe will lead to the ideal interface, choosing different starting points based on their core competencies and strategic interests. Rather than try to pick winners at this very early stage, here are some examples of those involved in the new era of TV interfaces and the solutions they offer:

Netflix. In spite of its recent stumbles, Netflix remains the content provider to beat in this game. It has invested millions in developing different user interfaces to run on different platforms. It has unmatched expertise in its recommendations engine, developing algorithms that can identify content that a given subscriber might enjoy. The company has made strides in improving what has been viewed as a lackluster catalog of titles, and its recent licensing of the popular Mad Men series shows that it’s willing to spend serious money to compete. Like Hulu, its content inventory depends on its ability to continue to negotiate licenses for the programming, but of the two, Netflix appears to be on more solid financial footing for the moment.

Dijit. Dijit was founded in 2009 with the goal of integrating smart devices into the household media entertainment experience. Under this strategy, a second screen is essential for home entertainment discovery. The company also believes that recommendations based on social data are sufficient, so complex algorithms may not be required. Extensive metadata for the content elements will still be an important factor. Dijit includes touch gestures as part of its smart device interface, but it does not believe that large physical gestures (such as Kinect) or voice controls are reliable enough to be effective. Dijit’s technology is interesting, but the focus is still limited. Its strategy relies on consumers’ providing an expensive third-party device in the form of a smartphone or tablet; it is not at all clear yet that this could be a broad-based solution for the average consumer, and Dijit may simply end up being an acquisition target.

Logitech. Logitech’s Harmony line of universal remote controls for televisions are available on retail shelves, and it was one of the first companies to come out with a Google TV product: the Revue. Logitech has the experience with remote control design that will be needed to adapt to the demands of new user interface requirements. The Revue already has a compact QWERTY keyboard controller that includes a touchpad for cursor control. Logitech is not likely to drive the development of the new video user interface, but it is positioned to be an effective hardware partner for a company with a winning strategy. The company’s recent poor financial performance — a $45 million operating loss in the first quarter of fiscal year 2012 — could open up the possibility of an acquisition.

It is unlikely that we will reach a compelling solution quickly that will spread rapidly throughout the infrastructure. The successful approach will likely take either the cooperation or the combination of companies to assemble the assets, resources and alliances required to create an effective system that is supported by all the stakeholders in the system.

For more company profiles and predictions, see the full report (subscription required).

Image courtesy of flickr user espensorvik