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Move could signal shift in company's living-room strategy

Google is getting ready to take casting beyond Chromecast: The company has partnered with TV manufacturer Vizio on a series of new TV sets that offer Chromecast-like functionality out of the box, Variety has learned from multiple sources familiar with the collaboration

The new line of TVs, which could become available as early as this spring, won’t feature any traditional smart TV apps. Instead, they will function just like Google’s Chromecast streaming adapter, offering consumers the ability to watch online services like Netflix and Hulu on their TV sets, but with the streaming initiating from mobile devices.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by Variety. A Vizio spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Vizio plans to help consumers with the transition to this new interaction model with an Android-based tablet that functions as a dedicated remote control. The tablet will feature apps from many media services, and also include a kind of programming guide that serves up content recommendations. The tablet may be included free of charge with some TV sets, and Vizio may decide not even to include a traditional TV remote control. However, a source cautioned that some of these details could be subject to last-minute changes.

Vizio briefly cooperated with Google on a Roku-like set-top box based on the search giant’s ill-fated Google TV platform in 2012, but didn’t use Google TV for any of its TV sets at the time. Instead, it had been using Yahoo’s Connected TV app platform, which is scheduled to be shut down in the coming months as part of Yahoo’s restructuring. More recently, Vizio had been transitioning some of its TVs to Opera’s smart TV platform.

The introduction of a cast-capable TV isn’t just big news for Vizio. It also indicates that Google may be rethinking how it is approaching the living room. Google first introduced Chromecast in 2013, and sold more than 20 million units of the streaming adapter even before it introduced a second generation of the device last September.

But Chromecast isn’t Google’s only bet on the living room. The company also introduced Android TV as a separate smart TV platform in 2014. Android TV works more like a traditional smart TV, with apps running on the TV set itself, and consumers using a remote control to navigate through app menus. Sony, Sharp and a few other manufacturers have started to ship TV sets based on Android TV, but uptake with consumers has been modest by most accounts.

Google also added casting support to Android TVs, making it possible to start media playback from a mobile device, but the company long insisted that these were separate efforts: Google was manufacturing and selling Chromecast, and TV manufacturers that wanted to add casting also had to use Android TV.

However, Variety has now learned that Google has approached at least one other TV manufacturer about adding casting without any on-screen apps to its TV sets. This could be seen as a sign that Google is shifting its efforts to the popular cast model, a move that would coincide with internal organizational changes: Google VP Mario Queiroz, who has been in charge of Chromecast since its inception, also took over leadership of Android TV last fall.

With Vizio now getting ready to release its first cast-capable TV sets, it may only be a question of time before we see Google cooperating with other TV manufacturers on casting as well.

Vizio has had bigger ambitions for its smart TV efforts for some time. The company has been measuring media consumption habits on its TVs for years, and in 2013 started to notice that consumers with connected TVs were starting to watch more streaming video than traditional TV.

Vizio quietly acquired Seattle-based Advanced Media Research Group at the end of 2014 to play a more active role in this transition from linear TV viewing to streaming. Advanced Media Research Group is best known for BuddyTV, an entertainment news website and TV guide app. BuddyTV’s website remains up and running, but the startup’s engineers have since switched to work on the guide that’s running on the tablet remote control to be included with these new TVs.

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