It's time to buy a Chromecast, but don't expect home-video nirvana

Josh Wein, FierceOnlineVideo

Half a year after introducing the Chromecast, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has thrown open the gates to its $35 HDMI dongle, giving any app developer who meets its terms of service access to the TV. That could mean a huge step forward for consumers' ability to watch online video on HDTV sets, and it certainly means a big step forward in the ability of independent app makers to reach viewers. But I wonder who will take Google up on its open invitation.

Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), Hulu Plus and HBO Go are already on board. They represent the biggest libraries of Hollywood-produced TV shows and movies that support Chromecast. When Google opened the Chromecast software development kit (SDK) to all outside developers Monday, it created the potential for a kind of home-video nirvana--the ability for viewers to easily control and authenticate the video (or games) on their TV sets from any app running on any device.

A host of companies also pledged to add Chromecast support for their streaming video or music services. Vimeo, AOL On and Aereo have all indicated Chromecast owners would eventually be able to use those apps with the device. Since Google's Monday announcement, personal media streaming solution AllCast has been the first to jump on the SDK and add Chromecast support.

It makes perfect sense for these types of semi-premium and personal media applications to jump on Chromecast. They have under-watched video assets that need an audience. But other video apps may have reasons to avoid it.

For instance, while Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) each have vast content libraries and large numbers of users for their video services, they might be reluctant to let Google control the end-user experience on the Chromecast. Apple makes a streaming set-top box and Amazon had been rumored to be working on one of its own. Amazon only recently added support for Apple's iOS-device-to-Apple-TV streaming technology, Airplay. And while Apple has long made its iTunes software available on Windows PCs, it's hard to imagine the company wants to give iTunes iOS users the kind of interoperability that would come with integrating Chromecast's SDK.

Other online-video providers may fall in the same camp. Take a pay-TV distributor like Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA), whose Xfinity TV Go app offers a mix of live and on-demand programming. It already restricts Airplay access and until this week had a good excuse for not supporting Chromecast. The company's lack of authentication for HBO Go on Roku devices and its development of a similar feature called "Send to TV" suggest a more conservative attitude toward letting its content play on just any device.

It's also not clear how quickly TV networks will move to incorporate Chromecast support for their TV Everywhere apps. Though HBO Go is leading the way in this arena, other networks may not share HBO's laissez faire attitude toward password sharing and device ubiquity. It's one thing when viewing on a TV Everywhere app is essentially limited to the device the software is installed on. It's another when that content can very easily jump right back on the TV.

Sony and Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT) online-video ambitions also presumably will exclude Chromecast support. Those companies seem set on recreating some of what Apple has built with iTunes and iOS--a relatively closed system where devices and content work in lockstep. In other words, Microsoft wants you watching on an Xbox.

Google's move to open the Chromecast SDK will absolutely increase what consumers can do with the device. For those like me who had been holding out on buying one until more programming was available, it's probably time to get one.--Josh

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