Android TV Wields Clout at Google's Big I/O Developers Show

Turner Networks this week is using Google’s Silicon Valley-situated I/O developers conference to show off its latest Android TV apps for TNT and TBS.

The debut of the updates on the Google platform came after a three-week lull in which the TNT and TBS apps were no longer playable on Android TV. The Android TV versions of the apps, which had been available since 2017, stopped working after Turner published version 5 updates for the rest of the OTT ecosystem.

A few years ago, Turner probably could have afforded to sit on its hands for a while in terms of catering to what was an obscure part of the OTT ecosystem—one many suspected Google would eventually get bored with and abandon. Android TV, a version of Google’s Android operating system that supports OTT devices, still isn’t a major factor at retail. The most popular Android TV streaming box sold over the counter, the Nvidia Shield, commands only a small fraction of market share compared to Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.

But at I/O, Google is showing off the emerging power of its platform, which is now seeing fast-growing deployment as a customizable industry-grade product among pay TV operators globally, as well as quick infiltration into the smart TV market.

Related: Android TV Now Up to 140 Pay TV Operator Partners Worldwide, Google Says

Notably, Android TV is now deployed by 140 pay TV operators—which is rather astounding uptake, considering that Google was only touting around 100 operator relationships just four months ago heading into CES.

Operators around the world, and their tech vendor partners, continue to find Android TV the most cost-efficient way to deliver a managed pay TV experience to customers, while simultaneously blending in all of the OTT services their subscribers want.

In Europe, Google’s operator client list includes names like Swisscom, Telecom Italia and Teleus, just to name a few. In the U.S., AT&T is about to make Android TV the backbone of its new “thin client” streaming service. Dish Network uses the platform in its hospitality business.

CommScope/Arris, TiVo, Evolution Digital and MobiTV are among the major pay TV tech vendors offering Android TV in products.

According to Shalini Govil-Pai, senior director and head of Android TV, about half of the pay TV operators using the platform deploy the “operator tier” version of the product. Going this route requires use of a development team, but the operator tier version allows for a high level of customization and control of the user experience, allowing operators to deliver their own version of the UI.

Smaller operators, Govil-Pai added, tend to use the off-the-shelf version of Android TV, which requires far less development but allows for less control of the UX.

The hook for operators is the ability to deliver to their customers all the OTT experiences available in the Google Play Store, which at the moment I/O kicked off last week, now has 5,000 apps that support Android TV. Voice control through Google Assistant is also part of the offering. That 5,000 figure also represents extraordinary growth—it was jut 3,000 at last year’s I/O.

“It’s what their customers are asking for,” Govil-Pai said. “A large part of our momentum comes from understanding what operators need. Android TV allows them to customize their experience for their users, while bringing in their own licensed content.”

Another plus: Unlike other OTT ecosystems, pay TV operators are not required to give Google a revenue cut if money for subscriptions or transactional services come through the operator’s own Android TV apps.

The rise of Android TV hasn’t gone unnoticed. According to Light Reading, Amazon is developing an operator tier version of its Fire TV OTT platform.

And besides facing competition, Google still has holdouts in the app space to consider. For example, Hulu still hasn’t published an Android TV version of its “Hulu: Stream TV, Movies & more.” That’s the Hulu app that lets users access the company’s vMVPD service.

Right now, Hulu offers only one out-of-date app on Android TV that doesn’t include live streaming support.

Meanwhile, Epix, which launched a standalone version of its premium channel in February, still doesn’t have an Android TV version of its app.

A Google spokesperson said that conversations about these apps are ongoing and that the company is optimistic about integrating them soon. 

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!