Maybe Mr. Eric Schmidt likes his smartphone more than his TV remote, and that explains why he thinks TV is dead. But still, that big screen is something that needs to be addressed, be it from a google Android powered phone or a chrome browser. And that works with a little HDMI stick for $35 called Chromecast. Also Netflix, YouTube and Google Play Movies applications work with Chomecast. There is an SDK to develop new Chromecast enables applications. Here is a decent review on Engadget and the WSJ.
The stick allows content to be selected on a smartphone, chome browser or specifically enabled app and streamed to the stick. The remote control is done with the smart-phone or the browser platform. A simple but potentially very powerful paradigm.
Here is Google’s story on this at their launch event:
Is this a significant development or yet another TV streaming add on? At minimum it’s significance is that streaming content to a TV that is accessible on a smartphone or on the web via a (chrome) browser has become easy. That may attract some people. Is it a real game changer though: will it take away the user interface from the TV and put it in the hands of the smart-phone app? That is much less likely for a number of reasons. But it does challenge TV manufacturers and PayTV operators to come up with better and more convenient ways to provide access to content. If the second screen becomes dominant in content discovery for the big screen, the TV may become that dumb screen it is today in so many settop box equipped homes. PayTV operators may loose out offering that high premium content they create their margins with. But there is still a long way to go for that.
A more synergistic path could be the integration of Chromecast in TVs. Superficially speaking the hardware could probably be absorbed by new connected TVs, but the question is whether the software can be integrated easily. Of course it does require manufacturers to come terms with permitting a competing content navigation paradigm to gain easy access to the big screen, competing with their own smart TV functions. But on the other hand: there are already many external content sources, wireless HDMI and wifi based ways of streaming content to TVs, so why be paranoid about this one.
The short term key issue for Google it probably simply to quickly gain more access to TV screens for their services YouTube and Google Play. The $35 pricetag suggests a device at barely more than factory price. This is a plain old service provider sponsoring settop box type model, analogous to the BSkyB launch in the UK of the NOW TV box for 10 UKpounds.
The real comparisons are to Roku and Apple TV. The Roku streaming stick even has the same form factor but a much more constrained application (due to it’s reliance on MHL interfacing and other interoperability issues between the host TV and the stick requiring a certification programme).
As a conclusion: Chromecast tries to establish a video publishing platform for streaming services with a google centric model. It is pretty open and neutral, but it will of course have a google heart.
Videonet has published an interview with two TV industry insiders about the big picture implcations of Chromecast similar to the ambitions of this article. The ambition of the interview is not met however: no significant arguments are brought forward on why Chromecast is not simply a (potentially inconvenient implementation of) a wireless screen casting technology. The article even branches out to the use of “stick technology” to replace settop boxes which is irrelevant to the main issue.
In all fairness , in the interview Steve Hawley (Industry Analyst) does characterize it well, albeit a bit negative: It is disruptive, but not because it’s entirely new. Chromecast can be simply another distribution channel for pay TV and OTT content providers, and in turn, it becomes yet another platform for them to develop and test for.
There is also a good early analysis by Jim O’Neill, US industry insider that helps to provide background to this topic that deserves a reference. It specifically adds more views on the content that google can now bring to the user with its platform.