How to develop a Pay TV service on Smart TV: 3 key considerations

The Smart TV market is booming. Developing a pay TV service is an extraordinary opportunity for content providers looking to maximise their reach and generate new streams of revenue in a digital-first economy.

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According to Strategy Analytics, more than 665 million homes worldwide owned a Smart TV at the end of 2020. This equates to 34% of global households, a figure that is set to rise to 51% by 2026 when Smart TV ownership will reach 1.1 billion homes.

Sales of Smart TVs also grew by 7.4% in 2020 (no doubt aided by stimulus checks and lockdowns) to reach 186 million units, accounting for 79% of all Flat Panel TVs sold – and this household penetration will only grow as older television sets are replaced by smart-enabled models.

The benefits of bringing a Pay TV service to market in this climate are numerous; technology advances have removed the need for a set-top box (STB), lowering device purchase costs and spurring sales. In spite of our device-saturated society, the TV still remains untouched as a communal entertainment option, ensuring no cannibalisation between a Smart TV offering and web and mobile products. In addition, the constant innovation of new and exciting features for TV, such as smart remotes and 8k resolution, ensures a constantly developing and satisfying user experience.

Pay-TV illustration

So far so good. Connected TV is an exciting phase of growth and the abundance of  over-the-top (OTT) content for consumers to choose from is unprecedented. However, with significant market growth comes stiff competition and spiralling complexity for businesses as manufacturers choose between maintaining their own software and application ecosystems or licensing a software platform from a third-party partner.

As Smart TV continues on a steady trajectory to becoming the preferred platform for accessing video content, platform providers face a significant challenge in driving engagement and reducing subscriber churn. As in any ecosystem, only those providers that can adapt to change will survive.

In this blog post we will explore the key aspects you must consider when developing your Pay TV service. With this knowledge, you can avoid common pitfalls and create a Connected UI that your audience will love and, most importantly, be loyal to.

1. Choose your platform or OS

Samsung was the leading Smart TV manufacturer in terms of annual sales units for the ninth straight year in 2020, with Chinese giant TCL coming in second and LG third. Samsung’s proprietary OS Tizen is also in the dominant position with 11% market share, but with many third-party platforms such as LG’s webOS and Google’s Android TV making strong gains – with 7% and 4% market share, respectively –  the market remains fragmented and fraught with complexity for new developers.

Samsung, leading Smart TV manufacturer

Why is this? Well, just like mobile development, every individual OS requires its own application. As a result, right from the outset of your developmental roadmap you must make a decision on what OS or platform you will be creating for. Will it be for one? Will it be for all?

Think carefully about this. It is not only the initial build you must consider but also the rollout of updates, which can cause unforeseen issues with applications, and also the ongoing cost of maintaining the legacy environment. TV upgrades are similar to mobile phone upgrades, in that some consumers will upgrade regularly whereas others will do so only sparingly, meaning that not all apps or APIs will be available to everyone. Both out-of-date (such as Android’s KitKat or Lollipop) and cutting-edge technologies must be taken into account for the best possible user experience.

Choosing the right partner can go a long way towards navigating this constantly shifting complexity. When vetting potential partners, ensure they have the correct skill sets and track records for developing Smart TV applications and user interfaces (UIs). Skills you should vet for include:

  • Knowledge of platform-specific SDKs,
  • Strong knowledge of HTML5 gained while working on Smart TV app development,
  • Familiarity with software architecture for Smart TV applications,
  • Comprehensive understanding of complex JavaScript applications for creating an immersive and rich Smart TV app with high interactivity,
  • Ability to optimise UI performance over a wide range of products with heterogeneous features and power e.g. ensuring performance is smooth across both old and new OS versions,
  • Experience in dealing with the challenges of performance, rendering and DRM support across a multitude of devices.

It is important to note that there are also signs that the market is beginning to coalesce around a handful of dominant platforms, with Google’s Android TV OS reporting 80% year-over-year growth in the US. With so many big players, we can expect the mind-boggling choice of operating systems and platforms to naturally reduce in the mid to long-term.

2. Connect with manufacturers

Just as they do for mobile applications, TV manufacturers set rules and guidelines for TV app development, such as these technical and design principles used for Tizen apps.

Compliance is essential – not only to avoid rejection from your chosen store but also to maximise the chance of free or discounted marketing promotion from the manufacturer.

Yes, manufacturers can and do offer incentives to apps and brands to develop for their platform. Some also offer incentives based on user data – such as Apple considering allocating financial rewards to developers based on usage – so creating an app that makes both the consumer and the host happy is a must.

How to do this? Well, beyond complying with development guidelines for your chosen platform or OS, and ensuring all updates are taken care of, it is important to cultivate a relationship with the manufacturer.

Remember that the TV app market is fierce and manufacturers are themselves incentivised to make deals with publishers to launch UIs on their platforms. Incentives to develop for a particular manufacturer may not be financial, but will come in the form of store promotions, development grants, or test devices to ensure your app is the best it can be.

Choosing the right development partner is once again the most important decision you can make when considering manufacturers. The app developers with track records of successful deployments will likely already be close with the people you need to talk to, and will be able to support you in building these relationships – as well as creating a product that works seamlessly in every environment.

3. Be mindful of device-specific features and functionalities

User experience (UX) is the first and last word when developing a Pay TV service. In a digital-first world where consumers are unforgiving and have abundant choice, UX needs to be fast, frictionless and ever-evolving.

What should you consider when thinking about UX? All manufacturers carry their own ideas about their customers and their needs, but in general there are best practices that should be followed regardless of platform – Samsung’s UX checklist is an excellent place to begin learning what works.

Users interact with Smart TV apps via remote controls

Unlike tablets and mobile, users interact with Smart TV apps via remote controls, which differ depending on the TV manufacturer. For example, LG has the Magic Remote and Samsung has the Universal Smart TV remote, both of which have their own unique features and function on different operating systems. They also have different physical designs, which you will need to test extensively to ensure your navigation is up to scratch. Ask yourself:

  • Can users easily navigate to all objects on each screen?
  • Is movement between objects straightforward and predictable?

Aim to make the on-screen experience as smooth as possible, introducing easy log in flows and avoiding unnecessary additions like virtual keyboards. The UX should be fast and intuitive (latest best practice says that the UI must also be usable from at least ten feet away) with hardly any conscious thought by the user on ‘how’ they are doing what they are doing.

Consider also the video watching experience. What streams are being used? What features or constraints are native to your chosen platform that you need to be aware of and may have an impact on the finished product? There are native, open source and paid solutions on the market, which all have various pros and cons. The choice of which player to choose is driven by performance and security constraints, low latency requirements and ad insertion capabilities. Different projects often require different player features and capabilities.

Finally, don’t neglect the feature to cast from your mobile device to your connected TV. Several cross-device solutions exist depending on the devices targeted, including Chromecast, AirPlay, Mimecast and others. Your development partner will be able to help choose the best option for your deployment.

Final thoughts

It is the perfect time to develop a Pay TV service for Smart TV. The market is healthier than ever, with extremely strong prospects, and consumers – as always – are hungry for new content from their favourite brands.

Of course, there will be other things to consider on top of the points mentioned above – resource and budget allocation being primary – but by building a strong foundation and being mindful of the complex nature of the Smart TV environment, you will be equipped to build engaging and easy to use connected UIs that your audience will love.

Download our latest guide

Developing a Pay TV Service for Smart TV is a long-term investment with significant growth opportunity in the next ten years. At Wiztivi, we help content providers and publishers to deliver exceptional viewer experiences with state-of-the-art UI technology and tools. See some of the global brands we have worked with here.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to delve deeper into the technical side of developing a Pay TV service, download our latest guide, and don’t forget to discover how TimelessUI Universe, our cutting edge UI product, can help you.

Tactical guide

The 5 best practices for a unified cross-device strategy.

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