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Are We So Sure That Roku, Amazon Fire And Other Sticks Are Long For This TV World?

Have you bought a new TV recently? My family had been seriously overdue for a larger, smarter set, so we recently took advantage of the post holiday sales and snatched up a new Vizio (we couldn’t swing paying for Samsung’s new 219-inch TV. Maybe next year).

Not only has the experience made me lament all that time spent watching “The Crown” with a pathetic 32-inch HD TV (Sad!), but it’s been eye opening for me in terms of the future of the TV business, and who’s going to sit on the user interface throne.

In fact, the experience has been downright revealing.

My should-be-so-obvious-I-feel-dumb-saying-this takeaway: don’t count out the TV manufacturers in playing a huge role in how people interact with content and advertising. And don’t bet too much on the streaming stick guys.

And if you believe that he who controls the user interface, and all the data, customer relationship and ad opportunities that go with it may rule the TV world, I’d suddenly give the TV guys a Prince Phillips’ chance to make a power move here.

I remember being at CES back in 2012 right around when TV manufacturers were just starting to roll out their own versions of ‘app stores’ just as Apple TV and Roku were catching fire. There was not much optimism that people were set to have that kind of relationship with their TVs. I recall Tim Chang, managing partner at VC firm Mayfield, on stage at CES expressing doubts about whether the TV guys had it in them to do apps, saying it was basically not their strength. Leave that to the streaming device guys, or as one TV exec calls them “the sidecar devices.”

Until recently, I’d have had a hard time telling you what brand of TV I had (it was an Insignia).

If anything, I’d have bet that when it was all said and done, it was going to be either the sidecar companies (Roku, Amazon Fire, etc) or the cable/VMPDs who’d control TV interfaces long term – and have the tightest relationships with consumers.

Now I’m not so sure.

Again, like I said, I’m late to the game here, so this may be super obvious to most smart TV owners.

But upon setting up my new TV and connecting it direct to WiFi, the way we interact with and consume TV instantly changed, and not just because the picture was a lot bigger (my god does Winston Churchill pops on the screen!).

First off, our new remote has Netflix and Amazon buttons built right in. Immediately, I no longer need my Chromecast device, or the various TV apps I have on my phone. The new remote even has a Crackle (!) button for some reason.

And when you start using these buttons, you jump right into the Netflix or Amazon menus. You almost don’t know you’re in an app.

And since I spend a lot of time in apps, Vizio knows a lot about me. Plus, I opted in to let them collect analytics, not because I wanted to help them out but because I want to understand how that impacts my experience.

To be sure, I still spend a lot of time with my Verizon FIOS remote and corresponding programming guide, when I’m flipping around linear TV or using my DVR or VOD. That interface and connection remains powerful, if and when I cut the cord and switch over to YouTube TV or whatever (long story).

But with my new Vizio, I actually care about and spend time with my TV’s home page, so to speak. I have a relationship with my TV device that I didn’t have previously. It’s this dynamic that makes Apple’s surprising CES deal to integrate its tech into Samsung TV’s so intriguing.

Of course it’s worth noting that Apple – which also is putting its software into TVs sold at Best Buy – is sort of following Roku and Amazon’s lead here. Roku has been aggressively baking its software into TVs through deals with companies like Sharp. And it makes its own sets. That’s helped it nab 25% of the smart TV market. That’s hardly nothing. But that growth could hit a ceiling as TV manufactures go their own smartphone way.

Regardless, I’m less burning to grab a Fire TV or Roku. And I’m less convinced that the future of TV consumption and advertising belongs to those sidecar guys.