Power

Google’s new Chromecast aims to take on Amazon and Roku

The device brings together Chromecast and Android TV, and may integrate closely with other devices around the house in the future.

Google’s new Chromecast aims to take on Amazon and Roku

The new home screen experience, which the company calls "Google TV," is going to roll out to TV sets powered by Android TV next year.

Image: Google

Google is taking another stab at conquering the living room: The company officially unveiled its new streaming dongle, Chromecast with Google TV, Wednesday. The device, which retails for $49.99, combines Google's existing Chromecast tech with a redesigned Android TV interface that emphasizes content over apps, highlighting movies and TV shows from a variety of publishers directly on the home screen.

Many of the device's features were already known from a series of leaks, which included retailers selling the device ahead of its official Wednesday launch date, as well as an earlier Protocol report about its content-forward UI. More interesting than the hardware specs is what the device says about Google's ambitions for the living room and the evolution of the smart TV market.

The launch of the new streaming device comes a little over seven years after Google first introduced the original Chromecast streaming adapter. Shaped like a key and retailing for just $35, that first-generation Chromecast in many ways redefined the streaming device market. It paved the way for Roku and Amazon to also introduce inexpensive HDMI dongles, and it conditioned millions of users to think of their TV as a surface to watch content beamed from their phones, without any app galleries and menus on the TV screen.

The company sold "tens of millions" of Chromecast streaming adapters in the following years, Google Nest GM and VP Rishi Chandra recently told Protocol. However, Google also quickly hit a ceiling, with a significant number of consumers unwilling to give up on their remotes altogether. Case in point: A Chromecast-only generation of Vizio TVs flopped, forcing the company to change course and develop its own smart TV apps platform.

"We quickly realized: That was only one path," Chandra admitted. Google also invested in Android TV as an apps-based smart TV platform, and has since succeeded at licensing Android TV to seven of the 10 top-selling smart TV brands, as well as numerous pay TV operators across the globe.

The new Chromecast is in many ways an attempt to bring those two competing efforts together, and reenter the dongle market with a Google-made flagship device. "This is the biggest refresh of Chromecast in a while," said Chandra, who described the hardware release as "an opportunity to reset the market."

That type of reset is clearly aimed at Amazon and Roku, which have dominated the market for streaming devices in the U.S., with Amazon also being a formidable foe in Europe and other markets. Just last week, Amazon VP Marc Whitten announced that his company had sold more than 100 million Fire TV devices globally thus far. And while most TVs sold these days come with apps for Netflix, Disney+ and similar services built-in, there's still significant demand for external streaming adapters. "The dongle market actually continues to grow," Chandra said.

Still, for Google, that smart TV market is just as important, and the company's relationship with TV manufacturers hasn't always been smooth sailing. In private, industry insiders have expressed reservations about Google's renewed focus on its own hardware. The prospect of a Google-curated home screen that deemphasizes native apps has raised red flags with publishers, who could previously publish their own content recommendations directly to the Android TV home screen.

Android TV head Shalini Govil-Pai told Protocol that the new home screen experience, which the company calls "Google TV," is going to roll out to TV sets powered by Android TV next year. She said that the company was still working out details on how much TV makers will be able to customize the experience, including with content placements that may offer them additional revenue streams. "That's an ongoing discussion," she said. "In the end, the business models have to work for our partners."

Chandra described Google's decision to build its own streaming hardware as a way for the company to innovate faster, which could eventually also involve other devices and services. "It's a mistake to think of entertainment as only your TV," Chandra said, alluding to plans to integrate the new Chromecast more closely with other devices around the home. "It's a very different mindset of how we historically thought of this technology," he said.

Google’s latest plans for Chromecast are all about free TV

The company is in talks to add dozens of free linear channels to its newest streaming dongle.

Google launched its new Google TV service a year ago. Now, the company wants to add free TV channels to it.

Photo: Google

Google is looking to make its Chromecast streaming device more appealing to cord cutters. The company has plans to add free TV channels to Google TV, the Android-based smart TV platform that powers Chromecast as well as select smart TVs from companies including Sony and TCL, Protocol has learned.

To achieve this, Google has held talks with companies distributing so-called FAST (free, ad-supported streaming television) channels, according to multiple industry insiders. These channels have the look and feel of traditional linear TV networks, complete with ad breaks and on-screen graphics. Free streaming channels could launch on Google TV as early as this fall, but the company may also wait to announce the initiative in conjunction with its smart TV partners in early 2022.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

While it's easy to get lost in the operational and technical side of a transaction, it's important to remember the third component of a payment. That is, the human behind the screen.

Over the last two years, many retailers have seen the benefit of investing in new, flexible payments. Ones that reflect the changing lifestyles of younger spenders, who are increasingly holding onto their cash — despite reports to the contrary. This means it's more important than ever for merchants to take note of the latest payment innovations so they can tap into the savings of the COVID-19 generation.

Keep Reading Show less
Antoine Nougue,Checkout.com

Antoine Nougue is Head of Europe at Checkout.com. He works with ambitious enterprise businesses to help them scale and grow their operations through payment processing services. He is responsible for leading the European sales, customer success, engineering & implementation teams and is based out of London, U.K.

Protocol | Policy

Iris scans for food in Jordanian refugee camps

More than 80% of the refugees in Jordanian camps now use iris scans to pay for their groceries. Refugee advocates say this is a huge future privacy problem.

A refugee uses their iris to access their account.

Photo: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images

Every day, tens of thousands of refugees in the two main camps in Jordan pay for their groceries and withdraw their cash not with a card, but with a scan of their eye.

Nowhere in the United States can someone pay for groceries with an iris scan (though the Department of Homeland Security is considering collecting iris scans from U.S. immigrants, and Clear uses iris scans to verify identities for paying customers at airports) — but in the Jordanian refugee camps, biometric scanners are an everyday sight at grocery stores and ATMs. More than 80% of the 33,000-plus refugees who receive cash assistance and (most of them Syrian) and live in these camps use the United Nations' Refugee Agency iris-scanning system, which verifies identity through eye scans in order to distribute cash and food refugee assistance. Refugees can opt out of the program, but verifying identity without it is so complex that most do not.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Protocol | China

Weibo is muzzling users for discussing a landmark #metoo case

A number of accounts have been suspended, even deleted, after voicing support for the plaintiff.

Photo: Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

As a Beijing court dismissed China's landmark sexual harassment case on Tuesday, Weibo censors acted to muzzle a number of accounts that voiced support for the accuser, or even simply discussed the trial beforehand.

In 2018, the plaintiff Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known by the nickname Xianzi, filed a high-profile #MeToo case against Zhu Jun, a renowned state broadcast show host. Zhou claimed that Zhu sexually harassed her while she was an intern on Zhu's show in 2014. Chinese web users have closely followed the civil suit, which has also drawn international media attention.

Keep Reading Show less
Shen Lu

Shen Lu is a reporter with Protocol | China. Her writing has appeared in Foreign Policy, The New York Times and POLITICO, among other publications. She can be reached at shenlu@protocol.com.

Protocol | Enterprise

Take that, Slack: ServiceNow gets a little closer to Microsoft Teams

ServiceNow is expanding its decade-long partnership with Microsoft as both companies intensify their rivalry with Salesforce.

Microsoft and ServiceNow's "coopetition" is aimed at a higher goal: undermining Salesforce, which is fast becoming the main rival for both vendors.

Photo: Uwe Anspach/Getty Images

For ServiceNow, Microsoft is the lesser of two evils compared to Salesforce.

After ditching Slack for Teams following the Salesforce acquisition, ServiceNow is deepening its decade-long partnership with Microsoft, promising co-development of new products and fresh integration capabilities within Teams, it plans to announce Thursday.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Latest Stories