Angry Birds, fat pigs and the future of television

Rovio’s Angry Birds games have been downloaded more than 1.7 billion times, and are played by more than 263 million active users per month. The company is now targeting those hundreds of millions of players with a weekly animated show called Angry Birds Toons, which launched in mid-March.
Rovio has been calling these efforts “one of the world’s biggest video networks,” and Brightcove’s (s BCOV) Executive Chairman Jeremy Allaire, whose company is powering Rovio’s video streaming, told me Tuesday that he sees this as an inflection point for video franchises. But what do the famous birds and their disdain for pigs really mean for the future of television?

These birds are up to something

First of all, Rovio’s move into the world of original video programming is pretty ingenious. The company established an audience with its games, and now offers its ad-supported video series through the very same apps — no additional installs needed. “They clearly are in a really powerful position,” said Allaire.
Essentially, the company is using its games as very effective trojan horses, in turn demonstrating how iPads, Android tablets and mobile phones have become an important piece of of the puzzle when you’re in the entertainment business. It also shows how much they’re starting to change the game for the TV industry.
Netflix (s NFLX) started its streaming efforts on PCs, but most of its streaming is nowadays happening on connected devices. Game consoles like Sony’s (s SNE) PS3 and Microsoft’s (s MSFT) Xbox 360 are seeing the lion’s share of use, but devices like Apple (s AAPL) TV are growing quickly as well. Netflix owes these devices its success. Without ways to get its content on the TV screen, the company would have never been in a position where it could spend $100 million on a show like House of Cards.
Rovio, on the other hand, is primarily a mobile company. Mobile devices are where people are playing Angry Birds, and it will be where they’re going to watch their weekly episodes of Angry Birds Toons. If the show turns out to be a success (and that’s still a big if) it could turn out to be the first big original programming success story for mobile devices.
And that could have an impact on the industry beyond birds and pigs, by signaling the industry that it doesn’t have to rely on traditional distribution mechanisms anymore. “You can establish a new programming franchise over the internet” thanks to mobile and connected devices, argued Allaire in our conversation.

When pigs fly

However, the flip side of this is that Angry Birds Toons also raises the bar for content companies to stand out and actually reach the consumer. It’s hard to compete with 263 million monthly active users. Heck, it’s hard to compete at all in a sea of millions of apps if all you have to offer is yet another show.
“In some sense, the business model hasn’t changed at all,” admitted Allaire. You still need to have highly compelling content, you still need to market that content effectively — and doing both  effectively is likely going to cost you a lot of money. And if you’re in mobile, you’re going to also need a really good app.
Birghtcove learned that lesson the hard way over the last couple of months when it failed to establish its app cloud offering, which was meant to provide publishers with an easy way to deploy HTML5-based apps with a native wrapper across a variety of platforms.
Turns out that publishers actually prefer to have true native apps that take advantage of each platform’s strengths and features, which is why Brightcove discontinued app cloud in February. “If you want a premium video experience, you got to put your best foot forward,” acknowledged Allaire when I quizzed him about its app cloud.
The bottom line is that Rovio may demonstrate new ways to enter the game — but that doesn’t mean that the rules have changed. To find large audiences, you still need to be big yourself or partner with a bigger platform.
That’s good news for Rovio and companies like Netflix and YouTube – but not necessarily for a startup looking to change the future of television.