Chromecast, Google and the Future of TV
In case you haven’t heard, Google Chromecast was released by Google last week. It’s a $35 dongle that makes any HD TV into a screen to which you can send content that you’re viewing on another device. This technology to throw content is called GoogleCast. Most people are thinking of it as a poor man’s Airplay which, on the surface at least, that’s all it is. Airplay is great technology, as a Google user, Android, Chrome, many apps etc. it has been the biggest draw on me to Apple’s ecosystem (I use Macs and have an iPad as well as Nexus 7). So why do I think this "poor man’s Airplay" is the turning point for TV? First thing’s first.....
Why has Smart TV, as of yet, failed?
Smart TVs today are a misnomer, the TVs have a bunch of features but they really aren’t very smart. As one of the perhaps 5 users of Google TV, I can verify the remote on my Sony blu-ray is unforgivable and the UI on the thing is awful, so awful that most people seem to overlook where Google TV is on the right track. Bringing the internet to TV has been attempted multiple times and all of those attempts have been different levels of failure.
The first important way most Smart TV platforms have failed is gaining content owner support. First of all, content owners make a lot of money from the status quo, why should they disrupt their own business? Second, building and supporting yet another app for TV is a barrier to entry however, this second component is what Airplay and GoogleCast fix, the app or site you’ve already built does it, with minimal work.
If Airplay already fixed this issue, why hasn’t the tide already turned? Well, Apple’s solution only works with Apple products. About 10% of computers are Macs, many more people own iOS devices but, you also have to buy an additional $100 peripheral, Apple TV, to attach to your TV and you have to be aware that all of this is even possible. And even then you still don’t have a good experience because of the next problem.
The second and most important way Apple TV, Google TV and basically all other Smart TV platforms fail is, lack of content discovery. Apps are just plain wrong on a TV! TV is a passive experience, not an active experience like a computer, phone or tablet. When I turn on the TV, having to open an app first is like picking the channel first, then looking for content. I know I want to watch TV, but I look for an interesting show not my favorite channel. Apps aren’t an improvement on the TV guide, in fact it is moving backwards from a content discovery standpoint! Google TV actually attempted to resolve this, one place to look for all available web, TV and movie content and could launch directly into that content from one place. The problem with that was the experience launching into that content was nearly always a web interface built for computers that is obviously terrible for TV (hence the unforgiveable remote) or a slapped together TV app. They may have been able to get around these issues with time, but MANY of the sites blocked Google TV’s web browser soon after launch ending any chance of success.
So, how do you revolutionize TV?
In order to revolutionize TV, you need:
All of the content on the web (which includes TV and Movies on the web) available on the TV with a good user experience.
The next generation of the TV Guide
Really??? Just 2 things? Yep.
So, how does Chromecast accomplish either of the above goals? In short, it doesn’t, not directly anyway. Pretty much everyone in the media that talks about this announcement is talking about the hardware product, Chromecast. But, Google isn’t a hardware company, they’re a services company. Google isn’t interested in creating hardware really, they just use hardware as a means to drive service adoption. The service in this case is GoogleCast, the set of APIs (programming interfaces) available for basically every platform to send content to the Chromecast (and "soon" Google TVs).
How does GoogleCast get all of the content available with a good experience?
Assuming both Airplay and GoogleCast are enabled in an app, they both allow you to send content from the device to their respective enabled device on the TV (Apple TV or Chromecast). Airplay works between Apple products and GoogleCast works between Android, iOS, and the Chrome web browser on Macs and PCs to the Chromecast (and "soon" Google TV). Apple has a large head start here and whether Google can garner support remains to be seen however, I think they will. The reason for my optimism is that they are adding it to Google TV... just kidding... However, Google’s Android partners: Samsung, LG, Sony (and there are other smaller ones) also happen to be the largest producers of televisions. Why wouldn’t you build a technology into your TVs that makes your own phones and tablets better, and matches an Apple feature? And for anyone who already has a TV without it? Just $35, simple setup and off you go. So, this should get the receivers out to a lot of people simply and seamlessly.
Why isn’t GoogleCast just a feature of Google TV? One word answer, Samsung. Samsung doesn’t use Google TV as their Smart TV platform, they have their own proprietary platform. By making GoogleCast a separate service, Samsung can still use it in their TVs and keep the rest of their UI and Smart TV platform as is. In fact anyone can implement it on their TV, there is no UI on the TV. I imagine we’re going to see these GoogleCast TV announcements within 6 months.
Why, as a content owner, would you NOT make your content available to every television via this new method? Well, you might not want people to view your content this way, you make a lot of money via standard cable and the status quo. So why would you do this? Google TV really tried to make all internet content available on the TV (although unoptimized with a bad experience) and all of the big sites blocked it, pretty much gutting the platform, right out of the gate. I think it’s going to work this time around because Google learned from their mistake and this time they’re using a "carrot" and a "stick". The "carrot" is that they’ve made it very easy to implement GoogleCast on your site or in your app and work on all platforms. And it’s at minimum a competitor to Apple’s Airplay. The "stick" is, the content owners can’t really block it. You can mirror the tab in your browser and maximize the video window, the tab is still running on your computer not the Chromecast, that content is then sent to the Chromecast locally. The site isn’t aware you’re mirroring it to the TV. This gives the user a poorer experience but it doesn’t block the content. Do you want people to have a good experience with your content or a poor one? The only way they can stop it is to take their content offline, which seems highly unlikely.
So how do you get all of the content available in a good experience?
This, I think, is the most important piece and no one seems to be talking about it. It is GoogleCast’s web API. The web API allows website owners to customize their site, and even their own web player for direct video and audio use on the Chromecast. This would provide the same experience as native app support, and better than the sub par mirroring option, straight from the browser, no app download required, no need to know what app to open to get the content.
Here is the reason I think the web API is so important: To enable your website in this way you have to add special attributes to your web page that enables this better experience. Google Search operates by crawling websites, determining their purpose and indexing their content. Now Google can index them by this attribute as well, it knows the content is optimized. Google has already indexed all of the video on the web. I can see this when I use search on Google TV or doing a video search on Google.com. However, once Google knows you have an optimized experience, they can add that information as a layer on top of their current video index raising that site in the search results or eliminating sites that don’t have it. This both pushes content owners to optimize their content and improves the GoogleCast experience.
Google can also build the most important thing on top of that data, the TV Guide of the future: it will compile all of those videos, categorize them, make them easily searchable, additionally prioritize them based on what they think you’ll like. You could pick certain shows that are your favorites and these could be further prioritized. This is the future of the TV Guide, all of the video of the web, organized for you personally and each show available on your TV at the touch of a button from any device in a beautiful, simple experience.