The changing state of Android TV

AMSTERDAM – Android TV has two tiers: a retail tier with OEM partners like Sony, and the operator tier, which offers a video platform for pay TV providers.

As retail Android TV tries to keep pace with rapidly growing smart TV platforms like Roku OS and Amazon Fire TV, the operator tier is enjoying a growing share of the pay TV provider market.

During the IBC Show last week, Shalini Govil-Pai, senior director for Android TV, said that Android TV is now working with more than 140 operators in more than 60 markets. Since last year’s IBC, more than 25 pay TV operators have taken up with the Android TV operator tier.

To continue that growth, Google is releasing hardware to simplify the process for providers who want to use Android TV. This includes the Android TV operator dongle, a turnkey 4K streaming device that operators can brand and customize. Google worked with a manufacturer to handle fulfillment and logistics for the device, which launches straight into the operator app and allows its home screen to be customized by the operator as well.

Android TV is also releasing a hybrid set-top box reference design built to get operators closer to being ready for production. Google worked on standardizing hardware specs with different partners, and worked with system-on-a-chip (SoC) partners on choosing a chipset and a manufacturer. The SoC partners provide software and works with Google on certifying the device. At IBC, Google was showing off the first implementation with an Amlogic chipset.

Google also has perhaps its biggest Android TV operator tier launch yet with AT&T TV, AT&T’s new IP-based TV product that’s in limited release right now before going nationwide in 2020. Google was showing off the service at its booth at IBC, and there were clear differences between AT&T TV and the stock Android TV experience found on consumer devices. First, AT&T was able to build a customer launcher highlighting its programming guide, featured content and streaming apps like DC Universe. Secondly, the integrated Google Assistant voice control returned search results that were more tailored to AT&T (which owns WarnerMedia) instead of putting YouTube results front and center.

AT&T is betting this new service will become its new pay TV workhorse and help the company recover from vast subscriber losses at DirecTV. If AT&T TV does indeed resonate with consumers, it will be viewed as another win for Android TV.

But, increased competition in the pay TV platform and set-top box market could soon create headwinds for Android TV.

RDK gets a big boost

While Google was busy touting Android TV at IBC, Comcast was quietly closing a deal for Metrological, an application platform developer that integrates OTT video services and other content into the pay TV experience. Metrological already provides a pre-integrated app store solution for RDK, the open-source software platform that Comcast used to build X1. But nScreenMedia analyst Colin Dixon, who broke the news of the deal, said that the agreement likely puts RDK in a better position to compete against Android TV.

“The combination of RDK and Metrological provides a much more credible option for operators against Android TV,” he wrote. “Though it is unclear how Comcast will manage Metrological if it has bought it, we should expect the bond between RDK and Metrological to become much stronger.”

UK’s Rethink Research echoed that sentiment, and said Comcast “acquired a gem of a vendor with a revered team capable of boosting RDK recognition in Europe while defending the ranks against Android TV's belated invasion into the U.S.”