Android TV: Google’s Quiet Champion

It’s been eight years since Google first introduced (the now defunct) Google TV and four years since its pivot to Android TV. In that time, but particularly within the last 18 months, Google’s position in the smart TV landscape has strengthened considerably—especially among operators.

Google has dramatically cut the cost and time to market for third parties to release Android TV set-top boxes (STBs). The list of devices that incorporate Android TV continues to grow and encompass more than set-top boxes. JBL, for instance, released a sound bar that supports Android TV.

On the operator side, Google has been racking up a number of customer wins and has reportedly doubled its user base since 2017. Sweden’s largest multi-channel TV provider, Com Hemp Group, jumped on the Android TV bandwagon, as has Japan’s NTT DoCoMo and France’s Bouygues Telecom. Key to Google’s success among operators is its willingness to customize portions of the Android TV experience to suit a TV broadcaster’s unique preferences. In fact, companies such as Vewd, are able to build custom operating systems that ride on top of Android TV to enable greater differentiation among service providers.

Google actually makes two flavors of Android TV available to service providers and OEMs: AOSP (Android Open Source Project) and the Operator Tier. AOSP gives operators control over what apps and services are available through an Android TV device, but locks out access to the Google Play store, Google Assistant and Chromecast compatibility. AOSP also lacks regular updates, leaving adopters vulnerable to security flaws. The Operator Tier, by contrast, gives users access to the features lacking in AOSP plus three years worth of software updates.

It’s the Operator Tier that appears to have moved the needle for major Android TV deployments. TV operators may still be wary about inserting Google, with its voracious appetite for data, in front of its customers, but Android TV’s virtues—time to market as well as advanced features such as voice control/Google Assistant—have seemingly eased those concerns.