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Netflix and other streaming giants pay to get branded buttons on your remote control. Local TV services can’t afford to keep up


If you’ve bought a new smart TV in recent years, you probably have a remote with pre-programmed app shortcuts, such as the now ubiquitous “Netflix button”.

These branded buttons provide one-click access to selected apps.

The selection and design of quick couplings vary by brand.

Samsung remotes have a monochromatic design with small buttons for Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video and Samsung TV Plus. Hisense remotes are packed with 12 big, colorful buttons advertising everything from Stan and Kayo to NBA League Pass and Kidoodle.

The remote is now a thoroughly commercial space.

Behind these buttons is a lucrative business model. Content providers buy remote keyboard shortcuts as part of negotiated agreements with manufacturers.

For streaming services, being on the remote provides branding opportunities and a convenient access point to their app. It provides a new revenue stream for television manufacturers.

But the TV user must tolerate unwanted advertising every time he picks up his remote control. And smaller apps – including many Australian apps – are at a disadvantage because they are typically priced out of the market.

Shortcut keys on Samsung, LG, Sony, Hisense and TCL remotes.
Author provided

Who’s on your remote?

Our research examined remote controls for 2022 smart TVs from the five major television brands sold in Australia: Samsung, LG, Sony, Hisense and TCL.

We found that all major brand TVs sold in Australia have dedicated buttons for Netflix and Prime Video. Most also have Disney+ and YouTube buttons.

However, local services are harder to find on remotes. A few brands have Stan and Kayo buttons, but only Hisense has an ABC iview button. None have buttons for SBS On Demand, 7Plus, 9Now or 10Play.

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For full details see RMIT Smart TVs and Local Content Prominence report

Remote shortcuts are part of a larger battle for brand visibility in smart TV interfaces.

Since 2019, regulators are in Europe and the United Kingdom have researched the smart TV market. They have uncovered some questionable business dealings between manufacturers, platforms and apps.

Following this guidance, the Australian Government is conducting its own research and development a new framework to ensure local services are easy to find on smart TVs and streaming devices.

One proposal under consideration is a “must-carry” or “must-promote” framework that would require local apps to receive equal (or even special) treatment on smart TV home screens. This option is enthusiastically supported by the broadcasters’ lobby group, Free TV Australia.

Free TV though also arguing for a mandatory “Free TV” button on all remotes that would take the user to a landing page with all local free video-on-demand apps: ABC iview, SBS On Demand, 7Plus, 9Now, and 10Play.

Read more: Streaming platforms should invest more in Australian TV and movies soon, which could be good news for our screen sector

But what do we want on our remotes?

We early over 1,000 Australian smart TV users what four shortcuts they would include if they could design their own remote control. We asked them to select options from a long list of locally available apps, or write their own choices, up to four.

The clear favorite was Netflix (selected by 75% of respondents), followed by YouTube (56%), Disney+ (33%), ABC iview (28%), Prime Video (28%) and SBS On Demand (26%) .

All other services were selected by less than a quarter of respondents.

SBS On Demand and ABC iview are the only services on the list of top-ranked apps that don’t routinely receive their own remote control buttons. So based on what we’ve found, there’s a solid policy rationale for requiring public service broadcasters to be on our remotes.

But it’s also clear that no one wants their Netflix button tampered with. So the government should be careful to ensure that user preferences are respected when regulating smart TVs and remotes in the future.

In our survey, respondents also asked an interesting question: why can’t we choose our own remote control hotkeys?

While some manufacturers (particularly LG) allow limited customization of their remotes, the general trend in remote control design is toward increased branding and monetization through positioning. It is unlikely that this will be reversed any time soon.

In other words, your remote is now part of the world flowing wars – and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Read more: Can Australian streaming survive another attack from abroad?

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