Earlier this week, TiVo co-founders Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton launched Qplay, a digital TV streaming device that specializes in turning YouTube and Vimeo playlists into TV-style ‘channels’. Qplay is entering what has become an extremely crowded web-to-TV market, but if the development of online music streaming is any indication, it will be able to find a niche.
At launch, the $49 Qplay device only supports YouTube and Vimeo. Instead of offering dozens of apps, Qplay encourages its users to form playlists, which are then streamed to the user’s TV. Using his or her iPad as a remote control, the viewer can flip between playlists, turning the web-to-TV game into a more traditional channel-surfing experience.
The fundamental problem with Qplay is way its main utility runs against to the entire reason for digital TV devices to exist in the first place. Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV aren’t discovery engines; they’re just really clean, efficient ways to watch on-demand programming across multiple devices. Is there really demand for a device that turns the web into TV? My understanding is that viewers watch TV shows on the web because TV channels aren’t always showing the exact programming they want.
That being said, if you look at the online music streaming industry, it provides a case study that makes Qplay seem viable. On demand services like Spotify and YouTube are popular, but so are channel-based platforms like Pandora and Songza. Users like to be able to access a variety of similar musical artists with one click, and Qplay offers that service for online video fans while its competitors focus on a more pure on-demand experience.
Qplay, therefore, has novelty going for it. It’s not competing with other digital TV devices but rather attempting to create a new web-to-TV experience altogether. For some people, $49 will be too much to pay for novelty, and the music services I mentioned before are free. According to Qplay’s creators, however, the device will soon support Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. It will be worth a more serious look once that happens.