The benefits of learning Connected TV app development

Lead Developer David Flores explores the challenges of Connected TV app development and why learning how to code for CTV can help you become a better developer.
by David,  25th August 2021
Connected TV

As a developer for Connected TV apps, a question I am used to hearing from junior developers looking to work with us at FX Digital is “why should I become a Connected TV developer?”.

The world of Connected TV is relatively unknown and might not yet have the reputation that developing for Mobile or Web brings for developers starting out in the industry. Admittedly, developing for Connected TV has its frustrations (which I will outline below), but the opportunities to learn transferable development skills are multiple and in this article I will explain why you should want to become a Connected TV app developer, whether you are looking to get into coding or whether you are looking for a career change within the world of development.

Back to coding basics

First things first, developing for TV apps can be very frustrating. As previous blog posts from the FX team explain, the technologies that we work with are full of complications and constraints. When developing a HWA (Hosted Web App) we have had to work with browsers that are five years old (Opera 36) and browsers that run a webkit version released in 2013. A quick dive in will show anyone how many of the newest features that the cutting edge browsers support are not available for us to use, therefore we have to go back to basics (or at least what the basics were 10 years ago).

When developing TV applications, it is important to keep performance in mind. Different vendors will have restrictions in place regarding the size of the application (including all images required for logos, thumbnails, etc.), so the code we write has to be performant and optimal.

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Developing communication skills

With this in mind, it is paramount for FX developers to keep in close communication with the designers from day 0 of any project. We have to work together all the time, trying to find what solutions offer the best UX and performance for any given feature. Each team, on its own, sometimes feels like it’s own little startup, as the cross-team effort brings all together: developers, designers, QAs and PMs. This helps to develop your communication skills as a developer and take into consideration and incorporate other important aspects of the product you are building when writing your code.

Constraints lead to innovation

The restrictions of developing for Connected TV might sound like a faff, and yes, it certainly can cause frustration. However, constraints lead to innovation. Having limited resources, whether in memory or in performance, force the FX developers to be creative with their code and to truly understand the ins and outs of the frameworks we use and in the case of my team, feel completely comfortable using vanilla JavaScript and Typescript.

Developers should feel excited whenever challenges like these are set for them. It is an opportunity to truly hone their skills and become one with their code. FX developers have the freedom of not having to know just one framework and have the opportunity to challenge their knowledge and ideas, as they truly have to consider if their approach to tackling any problem is indeed the best or the most efficient.

New Frameworks and an opportunity to set a standard

In response to the aforementioned constraints, we have created new frameworks to use with our client applications, which we truly believe are changing the way we approach TV development. At FX, we have learned our lessons and we have tried different frameworks that exist out there. We have weighed their advantages and disadvantages and have realised that a lot of them have plenty of shortcomings when it comes to developing for Connected TV so we have taken matters into our own hands.

We are very fortunate to be partnered with Metrological so we can make use of their incredible and performant Lightning framework to develop HWA and which we have now combined with React Native to target native platforms (AppleTV, AndroidTV, Amazon FireTV). This is one of the new frameworks we have developed and it is constantly evolving, improving, and growing so all developers at FX can have a say in the future of the framework and its roadmap.

This is a really exciting opportunity for developers to contribute to these projects and be part of them, as they are setting new standards for what Connected TV application development will look like in the future. To put it simply, it is exhilarating to be part of this journey that feels like it is just at the beginning and to be part of a passionate and knowledgeable team that is willing to grow these new frameworks and set the new standard for Connected TV application development.

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Products that get used by hundreds of thousands of people

Developers at FX care about their code, know what they are doing, and aim to deliver the best and most performant applications. So what happens next? The product gets released into the wild for the public to consume. I remember the first product launch I did at FX. I was very aware that the app was about to be released to hundreds of thousands of users around Europe. It was a very exciting time and I remember my excitement when I came home, launched my PS4 and realised that I could download the app I had worked on (and that thankfully it worked well!).

Since then, I have been part of many other applications and releases and I have been very lucky to have worked with products that I personally use. But still, nothing beats the excitement of being able to see your applications in the vendor stores and being able to brag to your friends who use those apps that you were involved in creating them.

Conclusion: Short term pain for long term gain

Developing TV applications is not easy, it is restrictive, frustrating, and challenging. But that is the very essence of software development, it is a challenge that not everyone will be up for. The intricacies of software development will challenge your coding skills and force you to learn and grow as a developer. If you are up for a challenge and you are willing to truly develop your skills and understand the ins and outs of software development, by creating products that will be used by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, Connected TV application development is for you.