Wolk’s Week in Review: Google plots an aggregator for Chrome, Netflix launches ‘Shuffle Play’

TV[R]EV Week In Review

Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. Is Google adding an aggregator to Chrome?

The web sleuths at Chrome Story have discovered what appears to be evidence that Google is planning some sort of aggregation service, called Kaleidoscope, for the newly relaunched Chrome.

This would not be all that surprising in that Google has apparently decided that it needs to pay attention to Chrome once again.

Why it matters

As a refresher, Chromecast launched to great fanfare as it has a low price and worked relatively seamlessly with mobile devices. Unfortunately, it lacked any sort of remote control and that proved to be a fatal flaw for most users who liked being able to pause or change channels. In the interim, Roku and Amazon Fire TV skyrocketed to the top of the connected device market and now essentially own it, Apple’s baffling failure to provide a lower priced model to compete with the $29 Roku and Amazon devices having left them as an also-ran as well.

So there have been all sorts of rumors that Google is going to try to re-enter the now even more lucrative connected TV business, both via Chrome and via its Android TVs.

There’s also YouTube, which sits firmly in that grey area between “TV” and “web video.” More YouTube is being watched on actual TV sets these days, but the content is mostly short form and mostly still watched on mobile and most analysts don’t count it as “TV.”

But back to Chromecast.

It would be very interesting to see Google re-enter the fray as the Flixes are all pushing back against Roku and Amazon, as they feel (correctly) that while the Channel Stores may get them more subscribers, they’d rather have fewer subscribers, all of whom come in directly through their apps, where they get to collect all their first party data, while keeping 100% of their subscription and advertising revenue.

So it will be interesting to see if Google comes down on the side of Roku and Amazon and tries to create yet another system that puts the squeeze on the Flixes or are they going to light up something else.

Given Google, this may never even see the light of day--but if they do enter the fray along with Roku and Amazon, that will shake things up. Google has always wanted to get into the TV game (they had tried to get the FCC to allow Google set top boxes back in the day) but they raise massive red flags throughout the industry around their ability to collect data.

Why Google and not Amazon though?

Probably because Amazon actually sells things which means people outside the media and tech industries feel they understand what Amazon does but how Google makes money is largely a mystery to them and thus somehow feels nefarious.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Roku and Amazon, watch your back. Google might decide that they are better off just being an aggregator and not trying to sell subscriptions or advertising. That could allow them to actually make Chromescast a thing if (and these are big “ifs” given that we are talking about Google) they get the interface correct and they have all the Flixes the others don’t.

If you’re an MVPD, keep your eyes peeled here too, because Google will likely include their Android set top boxes in whatever they’re up to.

And if you’re an ad buyer, pay attention because they may try to make something happen with YouTube too, folding YouTube Premium into whatever they’re selling and passing it off as “CTV.”

2. Netflix launches “Shuffle Play”

“Analysis paralysis” is real. With too many options to choose from, viewers freeze up and can’t seem to make any decision. That seems to be more of a problem for Netflix these days, as more and more familiar library content departs for Peacock, HBO Max and points unknown.

Hence it is no surprise that Netflix is trying out various ways to help viewers past this impasse, the latest of which, a “shuffle play” feature that picks a random show to watch, is now in beta.

Why it matters

While Netflix is the OG and far and away the most popular Flix, it’s starting to develop a bad rap for not having much anyone wants to watch beyond a handful of top originals. While that is untrue and undeserved, it's an issue, and Netflix is smart to try and find ways to introduce people to what’s available on the platform, lest they depart for greener Flixes or even FASTs.

The problem though, is that Netflix does not have a whole lot of what qualifies as “Comfort Food TV,” the sort of lean back programming you put on when you just want something to watch that doesn’t take up too much brain power.

For most, that’s either a real estate show (“House Hunters,” “Property Brothers” et al) where the plot is easy enough to follow while reading email, a reality show (same rationale) or a rerun of a sitcom you’ve already seen a half dozen times, where the ultimate outcome (Jim does marry Pam) is known and spending time with the characters feels like a visit with old friends.

Netflix has a whole lot of series that are either originals or foreign imports that, while they make for good TV, require more “lean forward” energy to understand what’s going on than many viewers are often willing to expend.

Thus, the success of “Shuffle” is likely going to depend on how often it puts you on to a complex Danish murder mystery and how many times it sends you to a sixteen year old episode of “That 70s Show”.

What you need to do about it

If you’re Netflix, remember comfort food TV and maybe give the viewer an option to choose between lean-in and lean-back shows. (I’ll leave the actual wording to you.)

If you’re one of the other Flixes, take a page from Spotify, which, somewhat to its surprise, found that viewers aren’t always happy to play DJ, and welcome things like the Daily Mix, where Spotify picks for them, taking into account what they’ve been listening to as of late.

If you’re a Flix or a FAST, consider creating personalized linear channels or playlists--you certainly have the data and when people are just “looking for something to watch” those could be clutch. Not to mention all the data you’d collect from them.