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CES 2015: Have media streaming devices disrupted the UK TV market?

By Chris Elliott

From big media entities like Google announcing its Chromecast device, to startups such as Boxee’s reported $30 million sale to Samsung, companies of various sizes and specialities have made news in TV technology.

A space that’s rife for disruption, the online video arena has seen players from Apple to Netflix wrestle for years to declare living room dominance.

However, as a complex ecosystem that involves content protection, syndication rules and ad targeting, this market has been difficult to master.

Regardless, innovation in TV tech is happening, and happening fast. Whether it leads to a true sea change or simply involves new technologies that complement existing ones remains to play out.

‘Entrepreneurs want to provide the tools to allow content owners to make video more social, to deliver it to more devices, with different sized screens, in as many formats and business models as possible,’ says Dan Rayburn, Principal Analyst with Frost & Sullivan and Executive Vice President of StreamingMedia.com.

Whether developed by industry giants or by inspired upstarts, disruptive TV tech is changing the way people view video content, wherever they watch it.

Media streaming set top boxes were first introduced to the UK market in January 2011 – allowing consumers to convert their existing television into a smart TV, negating the need to buy a brand new appliance.

Streaming devices were manufactured by computer hardware companies such as Cisco Systems and Western Digital and commanded a high price with the first Sling Media set top box costing £249.97 when it was first released.

Since then the market has seen the introduction of rival products from traditionally non-hardware tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Sky.

The average price of set top boxes has more than halved in the last four years. In February 2011 the average price was £171, this dropped to £70 in January 2014.

The number of streaming devices on the market has quadrupled in the last four years with 22 different products available from UK retailers in January 2015 – up from a mere four products in February 2011.

Number and average shelf price of media streaming set top boxes

In September 2013, five products were removed from UK retailers and not replaced with newer models. Two of these models were manufactured by Sony, after which the tech giant had no set top box products available in the UK.

Interestingly, this coincided with Sony’s release of the PlayStation 4 which offers a lot of the functionality of these set top media streaming devices, coupled with typical games console performance.

At the 2015 International CES, Sony announced it was releasing PlayStation Vue a ‘cloud-based TV service that will debut on PS4 and PS3 before it comes to iPad and other non-Sony devices’. This service will allow American subscribers ‘to access live TV and on-demand content without a cable or satellite service‘.

Microsoft also announced at CES 2015 it will team up with media streaming pioneer Sling Media and give Xbox live members access to Sling TV. Much like PlayStation Vue, Sling TV gives members access to a number of live channels ‘such as ESPN and ESPN 2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel’.

Xbox Live members will receive a one month free trial of Sling TV once rolled out, with the services costing $20 per month after that.

Sony have yet to announce the subscription cost of PlayStation Vue and neither company has stated whether these services or similar will make it to the UK or Europe.

With a variety of media streaming set top boxes available, the question is whether it’s cheaper to buy a standard television and set top box or just buy a smart TV?

Brand View have looked at the UK’s TV market and compared smart and non-smart televisions across five retailers – Argos, Asda, Currys, John Lewis and Tesco – excluding curved, 3D and 1080P variants to ensure a fair comparison.

The average price of a 32 inch smart TV is £291 with the majority of products priced between £250 and £324.99. Comparatively, most non-smart TV’s are priced between £225 and £249.99, however there are a number of budget options between £100 and £174.99.

The average price of a non-smart 32 inch television is £203 – £88 cheaper than the smart TV equivalent.

Since the average price of a set top box is £70, UK shoppers could save £18 by buying a non-smart TV and purchasing a set top box separately.

However, if a shopper opted for a Now TV set top box or Google Chromecast they would save closer to £50.

Shelf pricing of 32 inch smart televisions

Looking at 50 inch televisions, the price differential increases to £103. This means a shopper could buy a premium set top box such as Apple TV or the Amazon Fire TV and still save money instead of purchasing a fully integrated smart TV.

TV Comparison table

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