May 16, 2012
You’re in for a big surprise. Microsoft is winning one of the most important battles in the digital world: The battle for the TV. The TV battle is important for reasons you already know: TV consumes more time than anything else and it generates annual revenues from $140 to $160 billion each year in the US alone.
But the stakes of the battle have risen sharply. The fight over the TV is really a fight over the next massive consumer platform that is coming up for grabs. Of platforms there are few: Google owns search, Amazon owns digital retail, Facebook owns social, and Apple owns consumer devices. Microsoft owns, well, nothing at the moment, despite its handsome revenue stream from Windows and Office.
That could change soon. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is already the most-watched net-connected TV device in the US and soon, the world. With more than 70 million consoles in households worldwide – as many as half of them connected to the Internet, depending on the country – Microsoft can rapidly drive new video services into tens of millions of households.
This week we released our newest report, The Fight To Control The TV Becomes A Platform War, describing the 32 million consumer households in the US that watch online video on a TV set. That number is up sharply from 25 million the year before, and of them, 18.4 million are getting the job done with a game console, the majority of them using the Xbox 360. Nothing else comes close, not Internet-connected TVs – which are selling well but connecting poorly – nor over-the-top video boxes like Roku or the Apple TV. (I talk more about the report in the brief video above).
The report focuses on what the current platform owners should do about Microsoft’s ascendancy. Google has to push Android onto every TV device, including the Motorola set-top-boxes it is about to own. You may even see Amazon put out a Kindle TV – made by Samsung or LG, of course. Apple is invulnerable in so many ways yet the 4- to 5-hours a day we spend on TV is its Achilles heel, clearly the motive behind the company’s long-rumored interest in making TVs.
Notice that in none of this platform prattle have I even mentioned the current titans that have been warring over TV for years: The cable service providers, satellite companies, even the programmers that produce and deliver the content we all love. Not that they’re going away, they’re not. But they aren’t in the driver’s seat anymore. Because their businesses evolved under traditional analog constraints that will gradually evaporate, they are left unable to mount their own platform push. With the possible exception of Comcast, which is aiming to give it a good try using its Xfinity and Xcalibur brands.
All my friends on the content side need not fear: Content is still king. But from now on, the content is only as royal as the platform throne it rests upon. This means that the real action – the action that matters in the living room and then far beyond it – is the rising battle between platform aspirants. It’s a global battle, and it’s one that will determine whose devices, whose software, whose app store, and ultimately, whose customers will generate the most value in the coming years.