Smart TV Makers Push Content and Internet of Things to Boost Flagging Sales

Smart TV makers are switching emphasis from hardware features to content and software capabilities around the Internet of Things (IoT) in a bid to gain momentum during 2016. This is clear from the focus at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas early January, where the two clear smart TV leaders, South Korean giants Samsung and LG, are both touting content itself along with features that directly improve the quality of experience on the screen, rather than promoting more arcane specifications.

This follows consumer feedback that compelling entertainment content might persuade consumers to pay a little extra for a smart TV. Internet connectivity alone is no longer a selling point since there are numerous devices such as dongles that easily connect almost any TV set to the web.

On the content front there are signals that both Samsung and LG are seeking deals with premium providers so that they can set up stall almost as alternative service providers, but that is yet to come. At CES they are talking not about premium TV content but gaming and app related material likely to appeal to a subset of mostly younger TV users. Samsung has said it will unveil six games at CES 2016, with about 400 to follow during the year. The company has also highlighted content related activities, such as the introduction of a sound amplifier and new graphical user interface, as well as a voice guidance feature to help navigate smart TV content.

LG for its part is publicizing a new range of smart TVs for launch during the year, but emphasizing content related capabilities of its Web OS 3.0 software such as automatically storing details of programs users prefer, as well as notifying them about linear content currently airing. So LG too is positioning itself almost as an alternative service provider, aiming to exploit the growing cord cutting movement, or at any rate cord avoidance among Millennials in particular.

In parallel with the content trend, smart TV makers are making a thrust to become the media management hub of choice for the smart home of the future, controlling IoT enabled devices and appliances like refrigerators, dish washers and toasters, as well as heating systems. Here they will be seeking partnerships with broadband providers or pay TV operators but meanwhile at CES 2016 are promoting their IoT management capabilities. Jo Seong-jin, president of LG Electronics' home appliance and air solution division, had promised in October 2015 that the company would launch a platform to connect and manage home appliances.

Not to be outdone for long Samsung has just announced that all new smart TVs introduced during 2016 will be IoT ready through being connected to its SmartThings platform allowing users to connect, manage and control various devices and IoT services. The smart TVs will run Samsung’s IoT hub software introduced earlier in 2015 to allow the TV to act as hub for IoT devices in the home.

This is a significant move pitting Samsung against the Internet giants Apple and Google in the battle for the smart home and success will depend partly on which can assemble the strongest and most comprehensive ecosystem of third parties. So far Samsung has lined up products and accessories from among others Bose, Philips, Honeywell, Yale, LIFX and Aeon, as well of course as its own products, all controllable from its TV hub.

LG looks like taking a different thrust leaning towards partnership rather than competition with Google. It is planning to exploit Google’s OS for controlling IoT devices in the home from TVs as well as other appliances. Its partnership with Google is more advanced over content, with LG having launched “Google Play Movies and TV” as a dedicated app for its smart TVs, in November 2015. According to the web portal “Business Korea” this was the first time a major TV maker had released a Google content app. It enables users to rent or purchase a variety of video content, including movies and TV shows.

Smart TV sales are continuing to grow but not at the rate predicted a few years ago. According to the web site, 52 million smart TVs were sold worldwide in 2011, rising to 66 million in 2012 and continuing to increase at about the same rate to 141 million in 2015, with 173 million predicted for 2016. 

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