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Is the Chromecast Connected TV’s iPhone Moment?

Vincent Flood  14 August, 2013

Google ChromecastThe connected TV world has been waiting – perhaps a little too patiently – for Internet TV to cross over into the mainstream. Connected TV’s slow progress has been blamed on everything from the five to seven year consumer TV buying cycles to the fact that it’s an exceptionally fragmented market where everyone has decided to build their own platform. One of the big hopes  for the industry was that connected TV would have its Angry Birds or iPhone moment, where a messianic device or app would emerge and lead the industry to the promised land of mass adoption and profitability. Chromecast – even at the tender age of just three weeks – just might be that device.

One of Chromecast’s greatest strengths is that it bypasses many of the problems that come with building an operating system from the ground up. If you look at the rest of the connected TV market, you’ll find a series of clunky user interfaces and a limited number of apps. None of them really give you the sense that you’re using a device that truly exploits the potential of the open web.

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But Chromecast manages to bridge that gap – users will be able to ‘cast’ content from the Chrome browser regardless of the device it’s installed on, or from apps on Android/iOS/Chrome OC/Mac IS/Windows that have added ‘casting’ functionality using Google’s SDK.

At first glance, all this openness might appear to limit Google’s opportunities to generate revenue. The orthodox approach to connected TV has been to build a walled garden where the owner gets to act as god and gatekeeper (a route also taken by Google with Google TV).

While that model might suit many players in the market – particularly TV manufacturers –  Google has multiple ways of profiting from a more open model. Assuming Chromecast keeps selling and the devices are used once they’re bought (and that’s still a big assumption), Google will be able to:

    • Have an almost complete cross-platform view of a consumer’s behaviour across mobile, desktop and TV. This data could be used for advertising or for enhancing other Google products e.g. YouTube’s recommendations could become even more personalised, search results could be refined, and advertisers would be able to optimise and frequency cap across multiple channels;
    • Become the go-to destination for ‘second screen’ advertising. If Google knows what you’re watching as soon as you have ‘cast’ the content, the user won’t need to have to consciously open specialist second screen apps or make use of automatic content recognition (ACR). For example, in theory a user who casts an episode of The Walking Dead to their TV could then see ads for The Walking Dead game on a news site they’re checking while watching the show, or a video ad on YouTube could reinforce their ads with mobile display.
    • Determine who’s watching in the room without collecting personally identifiable information (PII) or going down the creepy facial recognition route;
    • Open up the web’s video content  to convenient consumption on TV;
    • Tap into the thousands of apps (and their developers)  that already exist on devices running Android/iOS/Chrome OC/Mac IS/Windows.

So the Chromecast model is a great fit for Google, although the openness will also benefit most companies in onine video – there’s nothing to stop anyone with an app to adding ‘casting’ functionality, or from monetising that content in whatever way they see fit. The only potential losers would be the owners of rival operating systems.

Many Rivers to Cross

While it’s easy to get excited about Chromecast’s potential, it’s still early days. The $35 price point will almost certainly continue to drive sales, but it won’t drive usage, and it remains to be see whether ‘casting’ will be a new living room behaviour or a temporary fad.

Another potential problem could be privacy.  According to the Chrome privacy policy:

“For Chromecast users, Google may collect system activity, crashes, and other details about how you use Chromecast, including use of apps and domains (but not full URLs) accessed by Chromecast.”

The ‘use of apps’ part is a little vague. If someone is using Netflix, does Google only collect information on the fact they’re using Netflix, or do they also collect data on which programme/show they’re watching. If it’s the latter, it won’t just be the privacy advocates and regulators Google has to worry about – publishers and broadcasters will be hesitate when it comes to making apps and content ‘castable’.

The End of the Beginning

Regardless of whether Chromecast succeeds in the long run or not, it feels like connected TV just came out of beta. In the minds of many consumers, a psychological threshold has been crossed, and connected TV is no longer just a feature bolted on to a device you bought for something else- it’s something worth seeking out. That in itself is a huge milestone for the entire industry.

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