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The first investor in Snapchat explains how Alexa could replace TV for a lot of people

Jeremy Liew
Source: Lightspeed Venture Partners
Jeremy Liew

Jeremy Liew was the first outside investor in Snapchat, putting $485,000 into the company in 2012, and parlaying that early interest into an ownership stake that's now worth close to $1 billion.

Currently, he thinks the next big consumer tech hit will be the company that finds a way to replace "ambient" TV watching —and he believes smart home assistants like Alexa may take that place.

Recode's Kara Swisher interviewed Liew for the Recode Decode pod cast (transcript here). Liew noted that the average American watches 5 hours of TV a day, but they're not always paying full attention: Sometimes, the TV is on in the background, as a sort of companion.

He called this "ambient TV," as opposed something like "Game of Thrones," which is "appointment TV."

Internet video providers like YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu are all competing to become the digital equivalent of appointment TV, but Liew argues that nobody's doing a good job yet of becoming the replacement for ambient TV.

LG Electronics USA Vice President of Marketing David VanderWaal (L) and Amazon Vice President of Alexa, Echo and Appstore Mike George a LG press event for CES 2017 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 4, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
David Becker | Getty Images
LG Electronics USA Vice President of Marketing David VanderWaal (L) and Amazon Vice President of Alexa, Echo and Appstore Mike George a LG press event for CES 2017 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on January 4, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

That need is going to grow as millennials, who grew up without a "TV habit," begin to have their own babies and look for a digital replacement for that background companionship.

80 percent of babies born in America are born to millennial parents. Millennials are having babies, they're having families and they are starting to deal with this issue of, "I need to get the kids ready for school in the morning and I can't do that while glued to my phone. I can't do that while watching something on YouTube." Just having that sort of ambient company is comforting for a lot of people. The big question for me is, does that actually have to be video?

He went on to propose that audio podcasts aren't the best replacement because they still require full attention. Instead, intelligent audio-based assistants like Amazon Alexa, who offer more interactivity, may evolve to serve the function filled today by ambient TV.

With things like Alexa, you have the ability for interactivity, which is completely not being utilized by podcasts today, by audio today. These are the areas where I think there's a lot of opportunity, the use case is ambient entertainment.

He also noted that a lot of screens in the current workplace environment sit idle most of the time, because we're thinking of them as computers instead of just screens. There's an opportunity to fill those screens with useful background video, too:

If that was a television, in most offices, it would be tuned to CNBC with the sound off. Because it's a computer, it either has a screensaver on it, or it's off. I think there's actually a really small switch between those two behaviors, because every screen is internet connected now. It doesn't have to be the full attention that a phone demands, there is no way to consume that ambiently, but there are enough screens in any given environment.

You can listen to or read the transcript from the entire podcast here.