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Untangling the OTT Mess

Will Caavo’s device and apps control platform connect with consumers? 2/27/2017 8:00 AM Eastern

Caavo, a stealthy startup based in San Francisco, is looking to connect with videophiles and home-theater enthusiasts with a device that helps consumers manage up to eight TV-connected devices, including Blu-ray Disc players, gaming consoles, set-top boxes and specialized streamers.

But the big question as Caavo and its $399 device head toward a commercial release later this year is whether the product will be a mass-market hit or merely carve out a niche with power users.

Caavo, a company that counts among its co-founders Blake Krikorian, the serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Sling Media who died last August, recently emerged from secrecy with a product that lets consumers integrate and control multiple TV-connected devices from a single overarching platform.

The baseline Caavo device has eight HDMI inputs that can connect to consumer-electronics devices, including pay TV provider-supplied set-top boxes and receivers. A lightweight software client detects and controls all of those devices from a unified interface and can, for example, link the viewer directly to a show or a movie available from individual apps or retrieve a show recorded to the local DVR.

ONE INTERFACE FOR ALL

The idea is to help consumers manage a growing array of devices and to remove some of the manual struggles required when having to switch to different HDMI inputs or know which apps offer access to specific types of content. If a consumer, for example, searches for Stranger Things, Caavo is smart enough to know it’s offered by Netflix and auto-steers the user to that title on his or her preferred streaming device. It does that with no need to toggle to the right device, manually fire up the Netflix app, locate the title and start up the stream.

“Content has never been better, but access to that content on the biggest screen, your TV, is really a struggle,” Caavo co-founder and CEO Andrew Einaudi said during the company’s coming out presentation earlier this month at the Recode Code Media 2017 event in Dana Point, Calif.

“We own a giant pile of boxes,” and Caavo aims to address the challenge of managing them all, added Einaudi, a former Microsoft, Sling Media, Jawbone and EchoStar executive.

Caavo doesn’t run any applications or directly play any content. Rather, it deep-links to content and apps across the devices the consumer owns. Caavo also comes with a voice-based remote control and will support a “skill,” or learnable task, on Amazon’s Alexa smart home platform.

But at least one industry observer said he’s unsure that Caavo will be much of a hit with mainstream consumers. Instead, nScreen Media chief analyst and founder Colin Dixon said Caavo would likely resonate with a small subset of the market, much in the way that retail Slingboxes do with consumers looking for a way to watch their pay TV subscriptions on the go.

“My gut [reaction] is that this a niche product and it won’t break out to be anything more,” he said.

The market is already constrained with smart TVs that support most of the mainstream apps, Dixon said, adding that OTT platforms like Apple TV and Roku already provide some of the cross-search functionality that Caavo will offer.

“There are already solutions out there that kind of work,” he said, wondering if the initial pricing of Caavo’s platform is too steep.

FOCUS ON VIDEOPHILES

But Dixon said Caavo is already smart in focusing on home-theater enthusiasts who are most likely to buy and use a large number of TV-connected devices, and are likewise the consumers who would be facing the problem Caavo is trying to solve.

Caavo’s demo showed its device connected to a Dish Network set-top, Roku player, Apple TV, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Chromecast adapter, Fire TV box and Blu-ray Disc player.

Caavo’s product, which uses pegs to manage the cabling for all the devices it’s connected to, is set to launch in June and start shipping in September.

Early on, Caavo will be marketed to a “very select set of customers” and perhaps sell only 5,000 units this year as the company works to refine the experience, Ashish Aggarwal, Caavo co-founder and tech lead, said.

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