Smart TVs have come a long way over the past few years. From early attempts to create “Net” TVs, modern televisions now rival streaming devices like the Roku. And according to Vewd CEO Aneesh Rajaram, it won’t be long before low-cost streaming sticks fade away completely.
This really is the winner-takes-all situation where smart TVs could be the only device you need to enjoy all of your streaming television.
-Aneesh Rajaram, CEO Vewd
The engine that powers many of those smart TVs is made by a company called Vewd. Hardly a household name, the company is part of many households. Vewd’s smart TV platform powers more than 200 million devices from Sony, Vizio, TiVo and other well-known brands.
In an exclusive interview, Vewd’s CEO Aneesh Rajaram spoke with Flixed about the smart TV’s origins and future at the center of our connected homes.
Refined Experience Drives Adoption
Early attempts at making connected televisions suffered from underpowered hardware that led people to adopt streaming devices. But, according to Rajaram, that’s no longer the case.
“TV OEMs have actually figured that out,” Rajaram explained, adding that with the improved experience, “it’s almost a given that people buy a smart TV and connect it to the internet.”
The numbers bear that out. An NPD Group forecast expects that, as soon as this year, “household penetration of smart TVs will achieve relative parity with streaming media players as platforms delivering apps to TVs.”
Rajaram has a simple explanation for that trend: “Once the smart TV is working as expected, all the apps they need are there, [consumers] see very little need to buy any additional devices that clutter their living rooms.”
Bleak Future for Streaming Sticks
Premium devices like the Apple TV or game consoles will continue to deliver content to televisions. From Rajaram’s vantage point, the outlook for low-cost streaming sticks and set-top boxes isn’t promising:
“Many of the other players and streaming devices will probably just fizzle out. This is why companies like Roku are pretty focused on the television space rather than the streaming media player space.”
What cord-cutters should take away from this is the need to pay more attention to smart TV features when shopping for their next television. You may find yourself using that smart TV interface every day for as long as you own the TV.
Check out our full interview with Vewd CEO Aneesh Rajaram to learn more about the changing streaming TV landscape and how Vewd’s next-generation smart TV system will revolutionize the way people discover content on their televisions.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Many of Flixed’s readers will not be familiar with Vewd. In a nutshell, how would you explain what Vewd does?
Vewd is the world’s largest enabler of streaming television. That’s really the shortest version of what we do. For over a decade we’ve been at the forefront of really creating and enabling this revolution of what we see today as streaming television.
There’s been a lot of hype about buying additional devices to supplement and enable your OTT experience. Smart TV platforms are getting more mature. This really is the winner-takes-all situation where smart TVs could be the only device you need to enjoy all of your streaming television.
Not too long ago, most people never bothered to connect their smart TVs to the internet. How has that changed?
Back in 2007, we launched the world’s first smart TV — the Philips Net TV — and that really kickstarted the entire smart TV industry. But what you saw in the years that followed is consumers ended up not enjoying the experiences. Instead, this big hole was filled by the streaming media players such as your Apple TVs, Chromecasts, Rokus, etc.
What we’ve seen since roughly 2015 is the smart TV OEMs have actually figured that out. So the models that you see from Samsung or LG and the models enabled by Vewd have great possibilities to access favorite streaming apps from the home screen’s app-centric interface.
Stats show that consumers started to use this a lot more. Streaming media players have been on the decline in terms of their growth in the last year — smart TVs are the fastest growing segment. We’ve seen this reflected also by up to 90% penetration in certain markets.
Which markets are seeing such high rates of connected smart TV’s?
Over 90% of TVs in China are actually connected, that’s the market leader. If you look at the North American market and in many markets in Western Europe, five years back users were not necessarily connecting these TVs to the internet.
That trend has now gone north of 90%. For example, France is close to 92%. The United States was at 87% in the last report I saw. So really, you see the connectivity rates once people buy TVs is extremely high.
It’s almost a given that people buy a smart TV and connect it to the internet.
Sluggish performance was also a reason people chose streaming devices like Roku over smart TVs. How has that changed?
The silicon on these TVs has gotten more powerful and that’s then allowed the experiences to actually get smoother. If you are using a Sony TV or a Hisense TV, you will find the experiences to be quite smooth.
I think that’s less an issue or challenge today for end consumers when they are purchasing their TV. Once the smart TV is working as expected, all the apps they need are there, they see very little need to buy any additional devices that clutter their living rooms.
When a consumer walks into a Best Buy or Wal-Mart is there a way for them to know that they’re seeing a Vewd-based smart TV?
We’ve obviously taken a back seat, allowing the manufacturers to lead with their brands. You’ll see the “Vewd-enabled” logo that we use as a partner mark. We also have the Vewd App Store which we provide to manufacturers. That’s also on the packaging.
But really for us, this is about our partners such as Sony or Hisense or Vizio to lead with their brand. They tell the consumer that if you buy their TV that all the apps inside this environment will work and that’s their promise to you. It’s a slightly different approach than wanting consumers to recognize that everything is from Vewd.
Vewd introduced a new smart TV platform at CES, the Vewd OS. How is that going to change the consumer experience?
Vewd OS is our take on what the consumer experience should be. First and foremost we’ve seen how app-centric interfaces were pretty substandard from a content discovery standpoint. With Vewd OS, we decided to engineer ways to lead with video. It’s a video-first experience, completely cinematic.
Right from the home screen, you are launched into a very immersive video experience and less static images. It also means that every app has the ability to surface up and promote content from within their app.
The second thing is we’ve actually integrated all of the various types of video that consumers use today at home — be it live TV, video on demand, or any other OTT service really — through one seamless experience.
What that means is you could be recommended a piece of content from a broadcaster on the home screen and that will launch straight into a live broadcast. So it’s really merged and integrated all of the possible content choices that consumers have into one great experience.
Another great thing is we’ve taken a complete cloud-first approach. We maintain all of these applications through the cloud so consumers don’t need to worry about downloading apps and focusing on ensuring they’re up to date.
When can consumers expect to see TVs based on Vewd OS?
We’re working with all our leading manufacturer partners that I’ve been mentioning: Sony, Hisense, Vizio, etc. These are multi-year partnerships. We’ve been servicing some of these guys for close to ten years. We’re invited each year to provide new software. Vewd OS is our latest release so you can imagine that we’re actually in active projects.
We expect the first devices to come out later this year. We haven’t announced an exact date — this is really up to the manufacturers to set their launch dates.
With the smart TV experience improving so much, how do you see the role of streaming devices like the Apple TV or Roku Stick changing?
Over time, they will probably just disappear. Of course, you’ll have Apple TV and some of the larger players continue to sell their devices in markets where consumers can afford to buy those devices. But many of the other players and streaming devices will probably just fizzle out.
This is backed by the stats we’re seeing as well. The figures are actually on the decline. This is why companies like Roku are pretty focused on the television space rather than the streaming media player space. The growth is quite limited for those devices.
You get a unique perspective on the way people use their smart TVs. Beyond the core services like Netflix and Amazon, what categories of streaming seem to be popular?
What we’re seeing in the US, the lead OTT players are, of course, the video-on-demand services. But you’re starting to see a large uptick now of the virtual pay TV services as well. There we’re talking about DirecTV Now and Sling TV and PlayStation Vue.
That trend hasn’t fully caught on yet in Europe. Of course, you have Netflix, which is available everywhere. Amazon isn’t quite available in all markets. But what is more popular than these video on demand services are the broadcaster catch up tv services.
In pretty much every country in Europe, the top 3-4 broadcasters have created OTT apps with all their content — very regionalized popular content. That’s equally as popular, if not more popular, in some markets in Europe than Netflix.
In markets like India, you see apps such as Hotstar. They own the rights to the Indian Premier League, which is the cricket tournament down there. This is the number one app in that region – it’s more popular than Netflix.
There’s also the extended catalog of content which is available these days for enthusiasts. We have a couple of partners in extreme sports in 4K, for example, Red Bull is one of them.
How do you see the smart TV market in the US evolving over the next couple of years?
So long story short the smart tv market in North America will continue to grow. I think over the next 5 years the forecast is it should grow roughly about 30-40%.
We’re seeing, and the stats are telling us, that the market share of companies such as Samsung and LG has been slightly on the decline, giving up the market share to new players such as Hisense and TCL. So we do think that there will be a more diverse mix of platforms and brands.
It isn’t what it was five years ago when there were 2 or 3 leading brands that everyone was gravitating towards.
What are you streaming these days on your smart TV?
I hope I find time to sleep! It’s the challenge of working in the industry. You never find time to do what you love!
We’re quite focused on finding the best kids content for our two very young kids. So we’re basically streaming a number of different OTT apps. We have a broadcaster here in Norway called NRK, they produce fantastic kids content and we’re streaming a lot of that. We’re looking for more extended catalogs of kids content as well that could be quite unique for them to dip into.
Chris Casper is a former tech industry product manager who escaped from California for New Mexico. Now he writes about science and tech while searching for the perfect green chile sauce.