As soon as Google unveiled Chromecast, I was lucky enough to scoop up a couple of the $35 devices to connect the two TVs in our home. After a few weeks, it’s fundamentally changed how my family watches TV. It’s also changed some of my perceptions about the evolution of the “second screen.”
Most of the TV viewing in our house is dominated by our kids. Ages 3 and 5, they immediately grasped how to “cast” their Netflix shows from our phones (iPhone and Nexus 4) and iPads to either TV. After all, they were already watching Netflix on their devices, and simply tapping an icon to play it on TV turned out to be an extremely natural act. For them, devices are the starting point to watch video, not the TV.
For me, the remote control has been my historical starting point, but Chromecast is liberating because it’s invisibly tied to my omnipresent devices. I can leave both TVs on Chromecast (why should we have to turn TVs on and off?), then pick up any phone or tablet in my home, find a show and cast it instantly. I always have my phone in my pocket — but not remote controls — and our tablets are always sitting on the couch or next to the bed. Finding a show on a tablet is much easier than tapping up/down/left/right on a remote, and the multitasking wizardry of Chromecast makes it a snap to play something and do something else at the same time.
Of course, the MVPDs are playing an aggressive devices strategy, too, enabling you to browse and control TV content from your devices. The difference with Chromecast is it works across any app that has integrated the SDK. The more apps add it, the more powerful it becomes. While Chromecast is just wired into Netflix and YouTube for now, it’s coming to Hulu Plus, Pandora and reportedly HBO Go. You could imagine TV Everywhere apps like Watch ESPN could integrate it as well, assuming MVPDs don’t object. But in the divisive and confusing world of digital rights, that’s a big assumption.
That’s because Chromecast and Apple TV have the potential to become disruptive with scale. Devices, not TV, become the starting point. Apps become the channels. Google and Apple become the gateways, not the MVPDs. Screens become seamless. DVRs become pointless. And the internet becomes the cable.
While TV Everywhere preserves revenue streams, new habits are forming. Kids are growing up on devices and apps, and even my 5 year-old (sadly) knows how to make an in-app purchase. If someone wants to watch HBO, it’s natural behavior for a younger viewer to punch up the HBO Go app on a device and instantly play it on any screen. As the show plays on TV, the app could serve up supporting “second screen” content, which could also cast on TV in some way. Or you could switch off to another app, or watch the show on the device to begin with. The second screen is the starting point, and in many cases, it becomes the first screen.
Just look at the new NFL experience for Xbox, revealed in more detail this week. With on-screen scores, fantasy updates and conversations, the first screen is the de facto second screen,
As Kevin Spacey said at the Edinburgh Television Festival, “The audience wants control. They want freedom.” Of all the second screen technologies I’ve tried, Twitter and Chromecast are the two I use the most. Our kids even engage in “Chromecast wars,” casting their favorite shows over the top of everyone else’s shows, much to our chagrin.
By the way, Chromecast is still sold out on Amazon and sold out again on BestBuy.com. By all appearances, Chromecast is quickly growing enough scale to encourage widespread adoption by developers. Stay tuned…