Advanced Television

Smart TVs and STBs fuel Android TV expansion

November 10, 2017

Google could gain increased clout in the pay-TV market as interest from operators in Android TV picks up and creates a resulting surge in shipments of Android TV STBS, accoridng to a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Operators launched many Android TV STB trial deployments in 2016 and 2017 and many OEMs are beginning to offer devices with the operating system, or OS. Smart televisions and STBs are expected to be the two dominant product categories for Android TV through the end of the forecast period. Worldwide shipments of all Android TV devices, including STBs and smart televisions, are projected to increase from 7.6 million in 2016 to 40.1 million in 2021.

Android TV was not the first OS for the living room released by Google. Google originally launched Google TV in 2010 to widespread criticism, often being labeled as too complex and better suited to a personal computer-type of environment. By 2013, though there were still a few products shipping, it was clear that OEMs had given up on the OS.  Kagan, a media research group within S&P Global Market Intelligence, estimates that Google TV-based device shipments totaled only 600,000 units during the three years it was available.

In order to further its aim of conquering the living room, Google made another attempt in mid-2013 with the Chromecast. Chromecast has proved immensely more popular than the original Google TV platform, selling 17 million units in its first two years. Chromecast runs on a simplified version of Chrome OS, but relies on an external Android device for processing and content, serving merely as a conduit to the television for those devices.

Android TV was released in June 2014 as a replacement for the by-then defunct Google TV platform. Google TV had failed to take off and Android TV was Google’s (now Alphabet) second crack at an OS for the living room. Unlike Google TV, Android TV is based on the Android mobile OS, making it much easier for developers to port apps from the mobile version of Android to Android TV.

Consumer electronics, or CE, vendors choosing to use Android for their products gain the advantage of an ecosystem that is supported by a huge number of developers without the development costs. Additionally, the operating system is upgraded at a regular cadence, and security updates come as needed. Tradeoffs abound of course. Losing control of the OS means that any potential revenue generated by the OS, notably revenue from advertising, viewership data and app stores, is lost as well.

Android TV recently added new features as part of the 6.0 update released earlier this year. As part of the upgrade, support for Google’s home automation platform, Google Assistant, was added, allowing the platform to include the television as part of its toolset. Using Google Assistant, one can change what is playing on the television, power it on and off, view security cameras, and potentially more as new devices and abilities are added to the Google Assistant ecosystem.

Android TV can be found almost primarily in devices that can connect to a television as well as televisions themselves. This currently includes set top boxes, streaming media players, and micro game consoles. Tablets have also been seen with Android TV, though those are being phased out.

Set Top Boxes

Android TV has been succeeding most recently in the STB market due to the increased flexibility that operators are finding in its operator tier. Unlike regular Android TV released to other devices, the operator tier allows pay-TV providers to customise the look and feel of the OS to a minor degree. Operators still have to deal with the pros and cons of an open ecosystem like Android TV, but are now able to put their content front and centre.

The advantages to using Android TV are numerous, says S&P Global. It gives operators the flexibility to offer popular OTT apps like Netflix and Hulu, as well as the other apps that are found in the Google Play store. Other popular types found on Android TV include gaming, social media and weather apps. Importantly, Android TV also allows for integration with the most popular mobile OS in the world. Smartphones and tablets with Android can stream video and photos to as well as control an Android TV device.

Disadvantages to using Android TV are still present, and more significant in the STB market than other CE device types. Using Android TV could cannibalise revenue for VoD services, even if there is a profit sharing agreement with Google. It can also be an invitation for users to trial other operators’ OTT services found in the Google Play store. And finally, the integration with Google Assistant could cannibalise revenue from home automation/security services already offered by the operator in favor of cheaper services offered by Google’s own Nest division.

Some notable movement in the STB market was seen this year. Both DISH and DirecTV, major satellite providers in the US announced Android TV boxes in 2017, Bouygues Telecom announced a new 4K Android TV box to be released in 2018 to supplement the one it released in 2015 and NTT DoCoMo announced an Android TV-powered box for its IPTV service to be released in 2018. Initially, most Android TV deployments were by smaller IPTV (and some cable) companies in Europe and parts of Asia. This seems to be changing though, as operators in North America begin to look at Android TV as a legitimate competitor to Comcast’s RDK. Those companies may be anticipating a more competitive pay TV landscape in the near future, where operators are able to serve customers outside of their traditional footprint via multichannel video programming distributor, or MVPD, services. In that scenario, being entirely dependent on an organisation controlled by a direct competitor would not be the best situation for those operators.

Accordingly S&P’s forecast shows tremendous growth for the Android TV-powered STB market. Unit shipments are expected to grow from 1.2 million in 2016 to nearly 12 million in 2021. However, revenue will lag as the ASPs for these devices are below $100. Revenue in this segment should grow from $97 million in 2016 to $730 million in 2021.

Smart Televisions

Smart televisions are expected to be the primary driver of the Android TV market. More manufacturers are beginning to look at and release Android TV-powered smart televisions. Skyworth (Toshiba), TCL and Bang & Olufsen have released Android TV models in 2017 and S&P Global expects smaller manufacturers to also pick up support in the near future. The two biggest players in the smart television market, LG and Samsung, will continue to rely on their own operating systems and most likely would not consider using Android TV in a smart television. These two and others, like Vizio, are eschewing Android TV because they wish to control the OS in order to collect viewership information, generate ad sales and/or enable other revenue generating business ideas.

Android TV is expected to see competition from Roku and Amazon in this segment as both companies have a smart television OS. Both the Roku and Amazon platforms are trying to garner support from the same manufacturers as Android TV. Roku and Amazon’s platforms are expected to find a following, though S&P Global expects manufacturers supporting these platforms to also support Android TV. S&P Global expects Google’s combination of mobile and home ecosystems may prove to be more compelling in the long run. Tighter integration between these ecosystems will become a key selling point for the respective devices using them (smart televisions, smartphones, security cameras, etc.) resulting in increased sales.

Android TV smart televisions are expected to increase as the OS becomes popular in the consumer market. In 2016 S&P Global estimates that 4.2 per cent of smart televisions shipped with Android TV, with that number forecasted to grow to 13.3 per cent in 2021. Unit shipments are expected to increase from 5.5 million to 27 million during that same timeframe. The installed base should reach 80.3 million by 2021, rapidly increasing from 14.6 million in 2017 because of the long replacement cycles of televisions.

Other Product Segments  

Android streaming media players (SMPs) failed to gain much traction in the market, as there has been a dearth of devices and those that do appear are often overpriced. Xiaomi, though, has released this year a new 4K Android TV SMP that is priced at $69 in the US. This device is proving to be a bit more popular than the previous devices released by Sony and Google and should help drive unit shipments upward in the near term.

Overall shipments of Android TV-powered SMPs are expected to more than double from 2016 to 2017 on the sales of Xiaomi’s device alone. In total, roughly 932,000 SMPs are expected to be shipped in 2017. Looking ahead though, SMPs should decline slightly through the forecast period, as the overall popularity of the devices begins to wane.

Micro game consoles, such as NVIDIA’s Shield TV console, are continuing to ship as well. S&P Global expects that this market may be upended by the proliferation of other Android TV devices, as they will also be able to play games with a connected controller. Shipments are expected to decline to 225,000 by 2021, down from roughly 525,000 in 2017.

At one point, Android TV was considered a viable option as a tablet OS for pay TV operators who wished to deploy tablets as viewing devices for content on their platforms. After a few trials by operators like AT&T and the recent decline in the overall tablet market, it appears that these devices no longer are viable. Other devices featuring Android TV may pop up on the market during the forecast period. The most likely device is a streaming media stick. Android TV devices run better on higher end quad-core processors, which are not currently able to run (reliably) in the constrained environment the stick form factor requires. S&P Global expects this may no longer be an issue at some point toward the latter half of the forecast and thus S&P Global may see one or two streaming media sticks with Android TV at that point.

Categories: Articles, Connected TV, Markets, Middleware, Research, STB