Nintendo counts on 'second-screening' to win the living room
After spending almost an entire console generation appearing disinterested in multimedia and networked services, Nintendo says it's just been waiting for the right technology. Now, the company hopes the Wii U's "second screen" approach will give it the upper hand in the living room entertainment biz, and make it the top device through which consumes access all their media in the home.
Although the Wii handily won the install base race -- and the company's director of network business Zach Fountain says the Wii is also the top non-PC platform for Netflix -- most view Nintendo as the overall last to this particular party.
It's always been rival platforms that focused their message on multimedia partnerships and the role holistic devices with a la carte networked services would play in the home. But now, Nintendo certainly looks like it's trying to head off a more immediate competitor, not play catch-up in the old console wars.
At its New York City Wii U event, Nintendo didn't talk about Microsoft and Sony. Nor did it talk about Apple or Google -- who both suddenly seem like the company's more immediate rivals. Apple has gotten millions of eyeballs acclimated to its phone and tablet-sized touch screens, and seems as though it's about to negotiate the chasm between these omnipresent "second screens" and the big television through Apple TV.
Though one can speculate it's Apple's work in that regard that helped lead to Nintendo developing Wii U, with its tablet-like input and companion device, the company clearly hopes to leverage the culture of second-screening to get a strong foothold on the living room through its recently-detailed TVii service.
And by offering media apps plus access to one's own regular TV and cable packages directly out of the box with no subscription fees for the service, Nintendo looks like it's aiming to remain competitive -- and to justify the deluxe Wii U's $300 basic pricing, steep compared to current-gen console prices and the $99 Apple TV.
The protestations and desire for exclusivity on the part of cable carriers have created significant challenges to Apple and Google's home entertainent ambitions, but Nintendo seems to have sidestepped this particular barrier by simply allowing its television functionality to interact fuss-free with existing set-top boxes. Fountain told attendees to Nintendo's event that users can access their overall programming guide interface by answering a couple questions about their carrier and package, and then the Wii U controller's remote control function interacts through infrared codes.
"Imagine, if you're a content creator, you want the greatest possible exposure and distribution," Fountain said at a breakout Q&A session. "Some platforms have walls built around them; what Nintendo TVii is doing is joining all of those together."
This was particularly important to Nintendo's strategy because the overwhelming majority of television viewers -- some 80 percent -- still primarily keep up with favorite shows through traditional TV channels, not online or app-based services. Wii U's second screen is a way to integrate that viewing functionality with the type of touch device Nintendo believes home users are already well accustomed to.
"I can't reinforce this point enough: The ways that everyone's watching, now, they're changing. There are more video services than ever, and more time-shifted viewing on DVR... but traditional TV still dominates 98 percent of video viewing," Foountain says. "By building an experience, a Nintendo TV that works with what you already have, we have already covered a huge occasion that is missing from other platforms."
It's made possible through a partnership with independent developer i.TV, a company with a history of creating integrated and branded experiences for second screens. The TVii service "has been built for the ground up for Nintendo," says Fountain. "Everything you see with the Nintendo TVii will be exclusive to the platform with the important exception: The social component around these live moments that are delivered."
Users will be able to see, share and comment on notable moments in their shared viewing, Fountain explains. That social component may become available to other partners outside Nintendo, but the rest of its approach is proprietary. Individual Wii U users each get their own viewer profiles, with recommendation engines tailored to their preferences and individual social media logins.
"I think immediately at launch we have some wonderful points of difference," says Fountain. "The second screen is so critical; it's integrated, you don't have to provide your own separate screen, download an app or sync your devices. It's built to work out of the box. There are a lot of interesting services out there, but you have to go buy harddware, or it's an incremental purchase, or you might have ongoing subscription fees."
"A lot of the ideas around interaction with live TV will debut when this service launches," he adds.