In perhaps Samsung’s boldest public acknowledgment yet that video content is an essential element in its entertainment strategy, the company announced at the Samsung Developer Conference that it would open its smart TV platform, Tizen, to third-party manufacturers. Sang Kim, Samsung’s SmartTV Product VP, noted that Samsung customers have cumulatively watched 1 billion hours of live TV content on 100 million smart TVs with Tizen TV OS support (all Samsung models shipped since 2016 include Tizen). According to Kim, though 3 out of 4 smart TV users stream video regularly, 44% of its user base are actually “cord shavers”—that is, they consume both streaming video and linear TV content.
While it’s impressive that 100 million TVs already support Tizen, the move to offer Tizen to third-party TV manufacturers is clearly an attempt to slow the flow of TV manufacturers like Hisense and TCL from embracing Roku TV and Android TV as their embedded smart operating system platform. Additionally, this announcement is likely to increase Bixby’s customer base, a crucial goal for the South Korean consumer electronics giant.
Not unlike Apple , with its TV+ service announced earlier in the year, streaming TV is now a central element in Samsung’s overall consumer entertainment products and smart home strategy. Samsung believes Tizen will grow in its appeal to TV manufacturers since its Samsung TV Plus platform offers free content (including over 70 live TV channels) that can be integrated with Over-The-Top (OTT) cable providers. It should be noted that the Tizen platform can already stream content from hundreds of popular apps, including Apple’s eagerly-awaited new original content service.
Samsung TV Plus is the company’s free, ad-supported TV service. It supports over 70 channels with live news, sports and entertainment programming. Samsung pre-installs it on all of its smart TVs (since 2016) and offers a frictionless experience that allows consumers to watch content for free instantly. To stoke the creation of new (especially 4K and 8K) content, Kim emphasized that Samsung is prepared to assist developers with marketing and monetization support. The developer community will be particularly impressed with the new SDKs announced at SDC 2019 that allow content developers to facilitate the distribution and management of ads. In a nod to the privacy concerns many consumers have with viewing ad-supported video, Samsung thankfully announced a tool dubbed TIFA (Tizen Identifier for Advertising). The company says this will give consumers the option to limit tracking or opt-out of targeted advertising.
During his presentation, Sang highlighted that Samsung ultimately believes consumers will prefer 8K content once they are exposed to it frequently. To that end, Samsung announced it was developing new AI upscaling technology that uses machine learning to seamlessly upscale content to 8K regardless of its original resolution and, most importantly, bandwidth limitations. As bandwidth limitations are the biggest roadblock to streaming 8K content to the typical home, this last announcement has the potential to be genuinely disruptive. It would be a significant differentiator for Samsung’s TV business.
The final verdict on SDC 2019
While Tuesday’s event was about much more than the streaming-related announcements detailed above, it’s clear that Samsung recognizes that “video content” is king. Further, it understands that its legacy businesses in the smartphone, television and other consumer electronics areas will only stay relevant (and prosper) if the company can successfully expand its video services capabilities. After all, Apple was able to make this pivot. Samsung knows that it must emulate Apple’s strategy, particularly since the smartphone market has slowed down.
While one might argue that Samsung is playing catch up to Apple in some of the areas mentioned above (particularly in the original streaming content space), the vastness of Samsung’s resources and the size of its core TV business should allow the company to execute on its streaming TV plans. Tizen is a highly credible alternative to Roku and Android TV, and Samsung is being smart about putting the tools in place for developers to accelerate the development of new high-resolution content as well as helping TV manufacturers monetize advertising without significant heavy lifting. If nothing else, today’s announcements at SDC 2019 prove that Samsung is more than willing and capable of flexing its muscles in the streaming TV space. It would be unwise to bet against them.