The battle of the streaming media devices is heating up with a refreshed Apple TV device joining the fray.
Apple’s latest set-top box ($149 for 32 gigabytes of storage or $199 for 64GB) has more streaming apps, lets you search for movies using Siri and sports a new touch remote.
It’s just the latest upgraded entry in the fight to be the Internet streaming video device in your living room.
A few weeks back, Roku unveiled a new Roku 4 streaming set-top box ($129.99) that is just now hitting stores. Among its upgrades: 4K Ultra HD streaming from sites such as Amazon Video, M-Go and Netflix.
Back in September, Google launched an improved Chromecast Net device ($35) that connects to your TV and lets you watch apps such as Netflix and Sling TV. Also announced in September, the new Amazon Fire TV streaming set-top box ($99-up) is arriving this week with enhancements that include voice support and the ability to watch 4K Ultra HD video.
A sign of the heated streaming scuffle: Amazon recently pulled competing Apple TV and ChromeCast devices from its online store to avoid confusion for Prime Video customers, the company said at the time. “That shows you the intensity of the battle,” says Roger Entner, an industry analyst at Recon Analytics.
Half of U.S. homes already subscribe to a streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Hulu, and the percentage of those with traditional pay TV is declining. Next year, Entner expects the number of streaming households to eclipse the number of pay-TV households. “Viewing habits have changed,” he said. “People are relying on streaming over-the-top apps and supplementing their sports addiction with over-the-air television.”
As more consumers experiment with and rely on streaming video, networks and content providers expand their offerings. As a result, “there has been this explosion of streaming boxes that allow content companies to talk to consumers in their homes,” says Jason Krikorian, co–founder of Sling Media and general partner at DCM Ventures, a tech-focused venture capital firm.
“Young people look at 1,000 channels that are pushed to them via the cable bundle and say, ‘Why do I need that when all I care about is eight shows and a couple of sports teams?'” he said. “They are interested in new kinds of solutions.”
Apple and Amazon have advantages going forward, Krikorian says. Beyond the Apple ecosystem, which includes iPhones, iPads and iTunes, the new Apple TV’s user interface allows the app catalog to grow to the thousands “we are used to on our mobile devices,” he said.
Similarly, Amazon encourages subscribers to its Prime service — free two-day deliveries are a benefit for the $99 annual fee — to get a Fire TV device because they can watch free movies and TV episodes, including a growing slate of Amazon’s original programs.
As for Chromecast, its economical pricing makes it an easy purchase. And once consumers get the hang of casting content to the TV, “it’s a proposition that has teeth,” says Paul Erickson, senior analyst with IHS Technology. “It’s an inexpensive option and a way for you to get from your mobile phone to the big-screen. … It’s selling through in huge numbers.”
He also expects Roku to continue to be a major player because, “it’s arguably the most consumer-friendly in the segment, both in terms of options and different prices and pure amount of content access you get.”
Roku for now remains the market leader, says Brett Sappington, director of research at tech research firm Parks Associates. “Over one-third of households with a streaming media player have a Roku device, and adoption figures are still climbing,” he said.
Over the last year and a half, Apple TV’s share of the streaming media marketplace has been “no better than stable,” he said. The new Apple TV will likely get “a bounce” but it must appeal beyond current owners — who may buy the new version — to grow its market share, he said. “Apple TV’s premium price may cause many consumers to go with Roku or another less expensive option.”
Hardware is all and good, but the flood of content is driving all of this. “We are seeing a growth of more streaming services here and abroad,” Erickson said. “Netflix is creating visibility for (streaming video) worldwide, but we have a lot more nationally and locally streaming services popping up over the world. … We’re only going to see that increase.”
“Cutting the Cord” is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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