×

Google Chromecast’s Real Genius: It’s Cheap and Dumb

With low-cost streaming device, the Internet giant may finally have found way to crack into the living room

After spinning its wheels for years trying to cram intelligence into TVs and set-tops, Google has landed on a far smarter approach to cracking into the living room with Chromecast: a simple, low-cost video-streaming device that treats televisions as stupid display devices, not computers.

Essentially, Chromecast is a USB-size wireless receiver whose only job is to pull video from the Internet (or a web content from a laptop) and display it on an HDTV. That’s all: There’s no on-screen guide. No storage. No apps. No dedicated remote control.

In a word, it’s stupid. Which is smart — all the intelligence and processing power for Chromecast is handled on external devices or in the network cloud. The remote control is your smartphone, tablet or PC, which is an easier way to search and browse for content anyway.

That translates into two clear benefits: Chromecast is cheap (retailing for $35), since it doesn’t require extra processing or memory chips to handle a guide or other apps; and is a platform that promises to let content providers easily plug into.

SEE ALSO: Google Unveils Chromecast, New Video Device for TVs

Credit for the “so dumb it’s smart” take on Chromecast belongs to VideoNuze analyst Will Richmond. If Chromecast ends up being successful, “instead of TVs continuing to become ‘Smart TVs,’ they are going to become dumb yet again,” he wrote a blog post.

Smart TVs have languished from relatively low usage, stemming from a dearth of content. Even Apple TV and Roku have been relatively slow starters, with Netflix single-handedly responsible for driving much of the usage for those boxes.

Google’s Chromecast is even cheaper than Apple TV ($99) and Roku 3 ($89), but the real key is that Google can on-board content partners in a snap. Instead of forcing a cable channel or website to develop software for a smart TV or set-top box, all they need to do is tweak an existing app. Bam — instant Internet TV.

That means Chromecast could potentially solve the connected-TV content chicken-and-egg problem by (a) quickly establishing a large user base, thanks to the low price point and out-of-the-box YouTube and Netflix support and (b) then attracting other content sources like Hulu Plus, HBO Go and WatchESPN.

Here’s another incentive to get web-video providers on board: Chromecast can sling any web page or web video to the TV. I tested out HBOGo.com with Chromecast and it worked great. But having it directly in HBO Go apps or embedded in the website would make it even smoother.

Granted, there are some downsides to the Chromecast approach. For starters, it requires you have an iPhone, iPad, Android device, Mac or Windows 7 computer — but these days, the large majority of U.S. consumers has one of them. Meanwhile, the crushing demand in the first day of the Chromecast’s release was largely because of the Netflix promo, which was quickly depleted — the offer of three free months of Netflix for new or existing subscribers, a $24 value.

But elegantly simple Chromecast stands to be the way Google finally gets on TV. Company execs insist that they are still continuing the three-year-old Google TV project, which hinges on convincing consumer electronics makers to embed a heavy stack of software into their products. Sure, having the full Android operating environment in a set-top or smart TV lets you do more — run games, interactive apps and more.

Really, though, people just want to watch video on their TV. It’s a lot more natural to use other smart devices to control what’s displayed on the TV, and Chromecast is a tacit acknowledgement of that fact.

SEE ALSO: Google Drops Free Netflix Promo After Chromecast Device Sales Surge

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Doug Scott - Twitch

    Twitch Recruits Zynga's Doug Scott as Chief Marketing Officer

    Doug Scott is leaving as game company Zynga’s marketing boss to become Twitch’s CMO. Scott assumes the CMO role at Twitch after previous chief marketing officer Kate Jhaveri exited this summer to become the NBA’s top marketing exec. News of Scott’s hire comes less than a month after Twitch launched a redesigned logo and site, [...]

  • Carter Hansen - VidCon

    VidCon Hires Ex-AwesomenessTV Exec Carter Hansen to Head Conference Programming

    VidCon hired Carter Hansen, a founding executive at AwesomenessTV, as VP of programming to oversee conference programming and content for the internet-video events producer. In the newly created role, Hansen reports to VidCon GM Jim Louderback and will be based in Viacom’s Hollywood office. As part of overseeing programming worldwide for VidCon’s community, creator and [...]

  • The Boys Amazon Prime

    Nielsen Adds Amazon Prime Video to SVOD Measurement, With Limitations

    After two years of measuring Netflix viewing, Nielsen has now added Amazon Prime Video to the mix of subscription-streaming services it tracks — and with the same set of limitations. Nielsen’s SVOD Content Ratings originally launched in October 2017 with Netflix. According to the research firm, the addition of Amazon Prime Video measurement will let [...]

  • Gavel Court Placeholder

    Netflix Movie Scammer Admits to Defrauding Investors Out of $14 Million

    A California man has admitted to defrauding investment groups — nabbing $14 million — by falsely claiming the money would be used to produce a feature film for Netflix. On Oct. 18, Adam Joiner, 41, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court, according to federal authorities. [...]

  • netflix debt

    Netflix to Raise Another $2 Billion Through Debt to Fund Massive Content Spending

    Netflix, burning boatloads of cash with a projected $15 billion content budget for 2019, is adding to its debt load once again. On Monday (Oct. 21), Netflix announced plans to offer approximately $2.0 billion aggregate principal amount of junk bonds, in both U.S dollar and euro denominations. As of Sept. 30, Netflix reported $12.43 billion [...]

  • Bristol, CT - July 26, 2018

    Mina Kimes Helps ESPN Kick Off 'Daily' Podcast

    Mina Kimes is preparing to take ESPN into a new frontier. The sports-media giant has launched a “SportsCenter” for Snapchat and tested baseball telecasts for kids. Now it’s hoping to set up shop in another media venue. Starting tomorrow, the Disney-backed company launches “ESPN Daily,” a weekday morning podcast that aims to tap its vast [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content