TV: Now What?

News broke recently that Amazon might move Fire TV away from Android and to their own in-house fork of Linux. TV app development would be done in React Native.

This really leaves TV Compose in the lurch. It will be used primarily for Android TV (a small fraction of the streaming device space) and for an ever-shrinking number of older Fire TV devices.

However, it further opens up an opportunity for some entrepreneur who wants to go after it.

App development for first-class TV devices will be highly fragmented now:

  • Roku uses a proprietary language and UI toolkit
  • Future Fire TV devices will use React Native
  • Legacy Fire TV devices and Android TV use Android frameworks like TV Compose
  • Apple TV uses macOS-style frameworks
  • Samsung, LG, and some other TV manufacturers offer their own stores and platforms

Here, “first-class TV devices” means devices where the app is installed on the device. Platforms like Chromecast, where the app is installed elsewhere, work substantially differently.

To me, this level of fragmentation, coupled with the nature of content-centric TV apps, suggests that a server-defined UI approach might work well. The TV apps would be largely white-labeled containers pointing to dedicated endpoints that serve the UI and the content viewed by that UI. Part of that server-defined UI would be a “stylesheet” for branding elements (color scheme, logos, etc.). The browsing and playback UI would be driven by a mix of the available content and some general presentation patterns, with customization as desired by the customer.

I am uncertain if Roku’s system will support this approach, as it is very proprietary and reminds me of 1990’s Visual Basic as much as anything.

It used to be that Roku plus Android would be 80+% of the North American TV streaming market. Eventually, that will become Roku plus React Native, as Amazon migrates to the new OS. Perhaps some enterprising developers will come up with something interesting to help bridge this gap and pick up the other smaller platforms as well.