Sparksheet QuestionThe trend toward apps is already underway. TELUS Optik TV subscribers can view TED Talk videos and CBC/Radio-Canada series episodes via TV apps running on their set-top-boxes. This year, TELUS added Netflix to their app lineup. We’re also witnessing a surge in broadcaster mobile apps such as HBO Go, Watch ABC, and CTV Go. Moreover there are many other media rights owners/producers – that are not broadcasters – that would like to deliver content directly to viewers. This year the NFL Players Association announced the creation of a media production arm named ACE that will produce original content centred on the players, outside of the control of the league. Other players associations are also looking into producing and delivering content directly to fans via subscriptions. So many content owners consider this trend to be in their favour.

Whether the consumer will buy into this model is still uncertain. Paying for one service with 500+ channels is one thing, downloading and paying separately for dozens of individual broadcaster apps is another. And getting users to pay for content they’re used to getting for free (such as YouTube and catch-up episodes on the large networks)… that’s another story.

Plus, one channel does not mean one app. Rather, each and every channel requires a multitude of apps. CBC TouTV currently offers its content via apps for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Windows 8, desktop browsers, Xbox 360, Samsung Smart TV and Mediaroom… and is faced with maintaining these and adding still more platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, PlayStation, and the list goes on. So development costs become an important business factor in evaluating the feasibility of this strategy.

Will apps replace television channels? If we consider that a channel is a big collection of curated video content, then no, I think they will coexist for a while.  These collections will continue to be delivered by pay TV operators (as channel numbers on our TVs), and yes there will be app versions for the cord-cutters who are willing to pay for just a few collections that interest them. Where the app versions may see growth is in the content owners who do not have traditional broadcast presence: the players associations, the specialty properties like The Onion and TED Talks, magazines and even branded content from companies like Red Bull and L’Oréal. These collections may only exist as apps and not channels. If operators abandon the pay TV business then that’s a different story. But let’s not discount their ability to bring apps right into their platform as TELUS is doing. The transformation is underway and it will be interesting to witness how this plays out.

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