Google’s new Chromecast streaming stick doesn’t really do anything that other technologies do, including Apple’s AirPlay and Microsoft’s SmartGlass. Even Google TV can display browser-based content on a TV screen. Any number of other set-top devices can stream Netflix and YouTube.
By pricing the Chromecast at $35, however, Google neatly positioned it as a why-not product. People who don’t want to spend $100 on Apple TV to get AirPlay, or who don’t own an Xbox might happily take a chance on a $35 dongle. Even those who have a Apple TV or other streaming device in the living room might see clear to add Chromecast to a second or third TV in the house.
The strategy appears to be working. One day after Chromecast went on sale Google was already back-ordered. One day after that it ended a promotion that offered three free months of Netflix with the purchase of a Chromecast, presumably because the promotional boost turned out to be unnecessary and whatever Google was paying Netflix for each bundle was threatening to get expensive.
For Google itself, however, Chromecast is more an about-time product than a why-not one. It finally figured out that the link between the TV and the second screen is the real high ground in the battle for the living room, not the set-top.
Two technologies will be critical to the TV ecosystem of the future: automatic content recognition and the ability to move content easily from a handheld device to the big screen. The former will eventually enable CE makers and app developers to create new, rich viewing experiences across multiple screens, while the latter will enable handheld, touch-enabled devices to evolve into the dominant screen for discovering and acquiring content, over time displacing the set-top device as the primary gateway to the living room.
Touch screen devices already can support richer, more intuitive interfaces than anything you can do with a traditional remote control and mobile devices and software iterate more rapidly than the software in smart TVs or set-tops, allowing for faster evolution in content search and discovery.
Both ACR and mobile-to-TV will also provide invaluable data on viewership, viewing habits and engagement on a highly granular level for whoever owns the link between the two devices.
While Chromecast does not appear to incorporate ACR, at least at this point, it does give Google at least one link between mobile device and TV and access to the data that link will generate.
By building Chromecast around DIAL, the browser-based protocol Google co-developed with Netflix, rather than around Android, moreover, Google will be able to leverage non-Android devices, helping to build scale faster than it could relying on Android alone and increase the amount of data it captures.
As more streaming content is delivered via HTML 5, rather than proprietary formats, the browser over time will become a more important platform for web video, which works in favor in Google’s Chromecast strategy.
Google struggled with Google TV in part because Google TV initially attempted to get between pay-TV providers and their subscribers, and between content owners and advertisers. Programmers and service providers each saw it as a potential threat and took steps to thwart Google’s plans, by blocking access to their content and by resisting integration of their linear TV services into Google’s platform.
At the same time, Google TV did not effectively enable consumers to do anything they couldn’t do more cheaply and easily using other technologies.
Chromecast, in contrast, is a simple enabling technology for consumers, while the Chromecast SDK will enable online content providers to create new, web-based applications and experiences for the TV.
Rather than trying to force its way into the TV ecosystem from the outside, as with Google TV, Chromecast positions Google to let the TV ecosystem eventually come to Google. The more consumers rely on touch-enabled, personal devices to find and access content for their TV, the more appealing the link between personal devices and the TV will be to marketers.
No disruption necessary.