Chrome Casting its Hat into the Ring

nexus7-chrome-cast-widget

Google announced today its latest foray into the world of tablet devices with their new Nexus 7.  After the horribly botched launch of the original Nexus, we have to hope this one goes better. On paper it’s a great spec, hopefully setting the feature bar higher and price lower for the other guys we really buy our tablets from… by which I mean Apple. I really don’t care that much, as long as I can play Stupid Zombies and watch movies perfectly on my iPad Mini. What I was a little miffed by is their announcement of the Chrome Cast widget.  This looks like a fat USB drive and plugs right into the HDMI port of any TV. It then allows you to stream almost any content from pretty much any device over the local WiFi network for just $35, it’s a stroke of Genius.

My miffed-ness springs from my love affair with the classy, elegant Apple TV; which just got nailed by Google’s cute, trashy, and cheap friend. I have three of the little critters plugged into the HDMI on all my TVs and with them I can stream from iTunes, HuLu Plus, YouTube, HBOGO, and a multitude of other content sources… just like the new kid on the block. Hopefully this too will inspire Apple to get innovating again. It’s certainly another win in the eternal battle against merciless, and excessive, TV advertising. As you may recall… I’m physically allergic to most all advertising (ironic, given that it puts food on my table). The growth of alternate content providers like HuLu and Crackle; which deliver top-notch content with minimal (if any) advertising in the way is encouraging. The other night I was watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which is an excellent vanity project by Jerry Seinfeld distributed on Crackle. Apart from some of the minor resolution issues, which occasionally pop up even in a Fios world, it was a pretty seamless experience. By no means as seamless as the iTunes experience, (which is quite superb) but pretty darned good.  On that topic, the next thing we need is WiFi devices that drop off the network if they aren’t being used. Even with colossal bandwidth, by the time you tack on 4 iPads, 3 Apple TVs, a smart TV, an Xbox and four cell phones (the normal in my house), we are back to late 1990’s bandwidth. At any one time, most of those devices are not doing anything much… so why are they taking up any bandwidth? OK, let me get off my soapbox now and make arrangements to attend the Apple TV funeral… no flowers by request.

The Great Media Game

It’s not the first time I can recall that Google has run an ad on the blank front page of Google.com but it’s certainly the first I can recall in a long time. The ad is (naturally) pushing their new 7″ tablet the Nexus 7. The new device has great reviews and at $199 it’s aimed squarely at the Kindle. Aside from the overall weirdness of having a huge ad on the front page the Nexus is an interesting departure for Google and another facet of what I believe is a much bigger media game.

For years we poor media consumers have had to put up with roughly 20 minutes in the hour of commercials…often poorly produced and repetitious. As a rough number I have seen the case made that for every hour of TV you watch advertisers are paying about 30 cents for access to your time. Then Satellite radio emerged with ad free music but horrible ads on their speech channels. Then came Pandora and a range of competitors offering essentially ad free or nearly ad free listening. Now we have Hulu, Hulu plus, Amazon Prime, iTunes and a range of video on demand offered by cable companies. The ad free content offered in many cases tends to be a little less current than prime time but if you don’t mind seeing earlier episodes or last quarter’s movies you can get a ton of pretty good content for about $20 a month, pretty much entirely ad free. Interestingly you can get almost everything you might want to watch except tonight’s new episodes live entirely without your cable provider. My youngest son recently took occupancy of his new off campus apartment and he’s proud to live a cable TV free lifestyle, no doubt he is an early adopter but it’s an option which wasn’t even available until quite recently.

So if you can live without tonight’s episode of Dancing With The Stars you can trade commercials for $20 and also get access to lots of content which wouldn’t be normally available. Catalyzing this dramatic shift in behavior are several key drivers including immersive high speed internet/wifi, mobile devices like the iPad or Nexus 7  and technology which seamlessly transfers content to the large flat screen which is a feature of pretty much every household in the US. It took about seven years for the flat screen to go from expensive luxury to commonplace. It’s taken less than two years for the tablet to make the same transition. The explosion of content sources (HuLu, iTunes etc) and the wireless integration technologies (Apple TV, Roku, Slingbox, Boxee etc) have all happened in just the last nine months. The adoption curves are shortening in real time.

We aren’t (yet) at the point where we can access all the content we want commercial free on any device in the house or outside for a total cost of about $100 per month…but I believe that’s visible from here.