I often tell clients that streaming has an object permanence problem: If you can’t find something on your smart TV, does it really exist? No, it isn’t necessarily easier to find shows on cable, which has zillions of channels that nobody watches, impossible-to-understand remote controls, and horrifically designed interfaces. But if you’re bored enough, you can scroll through your favorite channels and understand what’s available in the moment.
Streaming, on the other hand, isn’t built for channel surfing. It’s an intent-dependent medium. You have to choose which app to open, then navigate to a specific tile or hub or category to find something to watch. Sure, streamers have gotten better at surfacing content, but there’s still dozens of apps to choose from, each with a vast oversupply of content, leading to decision paralysis and other discovery challenges.
That’s why you hear so much these days about the “OS wars,” which is a jargony way of saying that the real battle for consumer attention is less between individual apps than it is between the set-top device-makers that aggregate everything on your smart TV’s “home screen”: Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV (not to be confused with Apple TV+), Google TV, etcetera. Each has its strengths—Roku and Fire TV devices are the most popular globally, while Apple TV tend to be more popular among high income households—but many of the core goals are the same.