Roku, Plex execs at odds over the future of aggregated streaming platforms

Aggregation is a pertinent topic in the fragmented streaming market, yet there’s some debate among the major players as to how and when it will happen. Scott Olechowski, chief product officer at Plex, doubts there will be a consolidated TV operating system anytime soon.

“I don’t think it’s going to just happen,” he said at a StreamTV Show panel Tuesday, noting various smart TV providers like Roku, Amazon and Samsung. “I think we’re in a world where there’s going to be a lot of really exciting competition across the board.”

Throughout that competition, Olechowski points to user experience as the key differentiator among content providers.

“We have to deliver the experiences the user wants, because ultimately that’s all that matters,” he said.

Randy Ahn, head of SVOD at the Roku Channel, believes consolidation in the OTT space is imminent.

“Aggregated experiences will consolidate merely by the fact there’s going to be a limit of TV OSs out there that will be powering those aggregated experiences,” said Ahn.

Other panelists agreed with Ahn that the streaming market will converge, but at a more natural progression. Amy Geary, VP of content acquisition at Comcast, remarked that the proliferation of FAST channels impacts aggregation levels.

“Pretty much everybody has a collection of FAST channels at this point,” she said. “I do think at some point, services that don’t have enough scale to drive any eyeballs or drive monetization may trim some of that.” In turn, Geary added aggregation will naturally occur as viewers find services “that really resonate with them.”

Scale is what consolidation comes down to, according to Bob Leighton, SVP of programming at Liberty Global, a multinational company specializing in broadband, video and mobile communications.

The ubiquity of Google’s search engine is one example of scale impacting aggregation, Leighton continued. While he thinks that case isn’t exactly analogous to what’s happening with OTT platforms, those platforms still have an opportunity to converge.

“The TV OS side is certainly ripe for some level of consolidation,” said Leighton. “How far it goes is a key question.”

Creating a better UX

When aggregation will occur remains up for debate, but panelists agreed a successfully aggregated streaming service is driven by a seamless user experience.

Understanding the technology capabilities of different platforms and what they each offer for the end user, Olechowski said, is key for an effective user experience. Capabilities to consider are fast content loading times and metadata integration, for example.

“A lot of the time it’s the technology integrations you can choose to lean into, that can make a huge difference in how successful you are,” he said. From a user’s perspective, all their devices need to work together.

Geary also referred to metadata as a “massive” component for Comcast’s business, which aims to bundle streaming services with high-speed broadband. Comcast is using metadata to simplify the user experience as well as bolster partner initiatives, such as the company’s joint venture with Charter Communications.

Ahn pointed to the Roku Channel’s Continue Watching feature, which not only saves a user’s progress but also compiles AVOD and SVOD offerings in one place.

“You could be watching ABC News live on a FAST channel and then jump over to a Discovery+ premium subscription…it’ll all be aggregated into a single Continue Watching row,” he said. “It’s more about ‘what content do I want to watch and how easy it is to get to that content.’”

Plex recently unveiled a similar feature that helps its platform users navigate their various paid and free streaming services – creating a one-stop navigation. Olechowski thinks understanding “the mode” a viewer is in will drive the user experience.

What a person wants to watch on a weekday, for example, might differ from their mindset during a weekend viewing, he explained. A viewer might also want to watch different programs depending on the device.

With regards to Liberty Global, Leighton thinks the company is positioned as a “converged MVPD,” amplifying its user experience.

“The word that comes to mind is completeness,” he said. “In almost all of our markets we offer pretty much all the key services.” Liberty Global has multiyear distribution agreements with Amazon and Netflix, for example. Those deals help Liberty Global bundle content with its connectivity offerings.