Gatekeepers 2.0: Meet the new MSO

A strong contender for the quote-of-the-month award goes to Andrew McCollum, the CEO of streaming video service Philo.

McCollum recently talked to Variety about the rising influence of connected TV platforms that bridge the Internet and living-room TV sets. “Direct-to-consumer,” said McCollum, “is a bit of a myth.”

That’s a perceptive read of a phenomenon that only recently has come into the spotlight. The inability (so far) for new-to-the-market streamers HBO Max and NBCU’s Peacock to wedge their way onto CTV platforms from Amazon and Roku has cast these once-obscure intermediaries in a new light.

As McCollum’s comment suggests, it’s not hard to draw a line straight from the cable/satellite TV companies of old to today’s dominant CTV providers. The Big 4 in this category (Amazon, Apple, Google and Roku) are often what stands between a television network or streaming aggregator and an end-user.

As a result, those programmers that lack a business arrangement with Roku, for example, are absent from the lineup of a CTV provider that now claims nearly 40 million active accounts. Although “accounts” do not translate precisely to “households,” the point is clear: Roku has become a major arbiter of what can and cannot easily be watched on TV screens, which have overtaken PCs, phones and tablets to be the No. 1 destination for watching Netflix, Hulu and other popular streaming services.

Next? How, or whether, a legitimate “direct-to-consumer” video market might ever evolve is difficult to conceive. Once PCs drifted to a sideline role in video access, the migration removed what had been a ready-made, more-or-less open environment for TV programmers to reach viewers via ubiquitous web browsers. Although hope remains that the “smart TV” category could reproduce a similar access environment, warring operating systems and a lack of harmony among manufacturers have led millions of Americans to instead adopt bridging devices (Chromecast, Roku et al) to get their Netflix to the big screen.

Like it or not, TV programmers now have a second set of gatekeepers to attend to, and with standalone CTV device penetration now hovering at around 56% of homes (Leichtman Research Group, June 2020) there’s probably no going back.

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