Are Smart TV Apps Ready for Prime Time?

Forget smart phones for a while. Time to check out what could be a colossal revenue stream for developers — smart TVs, as in Internet-connected boxes with app stores, RSS feeds and video-streaming services.

Apps distributed through set-top boxes and Internet-connected TVs could generate close to $1.9 billion by 2015, according to a new report from GigaOm Pro, “TV Apps: Evolution from Novelty to Mainstream.” The report estimates that paid apps will only bring in $10 million this year. The growth will be driven in part by the accelerated adoption of connected TVs, notes the firm.

[login]GigaOm Pro estimates that 60 percent of all TVs shipped worldwide in 2015 will have a built-in Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection, and 70 percent of those connected flat screens will have some sort of app platform or app store on board.

Complementary research from In-Stat’s “Web-to-TV Gaining Momentum in the US” predicts that by 2014 57 million US broadband households will view full-length online video on their TVs. Revenue from this web-to-TV video content will grow from $2 billion to more than $17 billion in the next four years.

Need some incentive to develop an app? How about winning $200,000 in cash for creating an app? That’s the first prize in Samsung’s Free the TV Challenge, a competition to find the most innovative applications for IPTVs, Blu-ray players and home theater systems.

The challenge offers $500,000 in total prizes and is open to all developers in the United States. In addition to the prize money, the vendor will give all winners a top-of-the-line 46-inch LED 9000 TV.

Developers can register for the contest at To be eligible, developers must live in the United States, submit the final app and provide a video that showcases how the app works to Samsung by November 11. Samsung will announce the overall winner at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Samsung’s SDK for its TV apps supports Javascript, XML and Adobe Flash Lite 3.1. The kit supports all three device types — TVs, Blu-rays and home theater systems — enabling developers to write once and deploy across the different devices.

Samsung plans to stay at the forefront of the fast-growing smart TV market, says Olivier Manuel, Samsung’s director of content. Manuel claims that the company already has 6.5 million connected devices available, and owns 80 percent market share for connected TVs and Blu-ray players.

“To spur interest in our devices, we are promoting TV apps as a differentiating feature,” says Manuel.

Samsung has 80 apps available on its connected TV platform, and expects to have 200 more available by the end of the year, he says.

Currently, all apps are free. However, the vendor intends to set up a digital payment infrastructure later this year, allowing developers to create premium apps a la Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Market.

In addition to the apps contest, Samsung announced that it is bringing on an exclusive new app from ESPN, dubbed ESPN Next Level. The app will give Samsung customers access to ESPN content. This is the second exclusive app to launch on Samsung’s platform, following the launch of the Hulu Plus app.

Finally, the vendor announced the capability to create 3D apps for its 3DTVs. This functionality will allow developers to create 3D games or to enable viewers to watch trailers for upcoming 3-D films through their TV sets.

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