Will Chromecast be significant in the UK?

This week, Decipher released the latest figures from Mediabug Wave 6, our bi-annual media consumption tracker. The findings paint a clear picture of growth in video on demand (VOD) viewing, particularly amongst older age groups, and fuelled in part by an increased accessibility to get video on demand services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, and Now TV to the TV screen.

The high value placed on VOD accessibility to TV screens is no state secret, however what is interesting to track is the changing ways in which viewers are choosing to do so. Whilst VOD via Pay TV set top boxes has been around for quite a number of years, it is growth in consumption through ‘Over The Top’ (OTT) devices that has caught our eye. From weighing up Mediabug data with industry news, I think a battle worth watching will be between Smart TV’s and Google Chromecast: two slightly different ways of watching video on demand on your TV.

Let’s start with Smart TV’s. Mediabug Wave 6 reports that Smart TV’s are in a total of 26% of UK broadband-enabled homes: an increase of 6% in 6 months. 89% of Smart TV’s are connected to the Internet, and Mediabug’s ‘share of usage’ metrics calculate that of total online VOD viewing on devices, Smart TV’s accounts for around 16%; an increase of 5% year on year. They have been around since 2009 and are well supported by content providers, commonly featuring BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All 4, Demand Five, Netflix and Amazon Prime apps.

Then there is Google Chromecast, a recently launched but well thought-of little dongle that you can buy for £30, allowing you to ‘cast’ content from certain apps on a device to your TV screen. Mediabug reports that 6% of homes have a Chromecast; a twofold increase in the last 6 months. Mediabug’s ‘share of usage’ metrics calculate that of total online VOD viewing, Chromecast accounts for less than 7%: an increase of 5% year on year. As a relatively new device, Chromecast supports BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Youtube, BT Sport and Now TV – but currently does not support ITV Player, All 4, Demand 5, or Amazon Prime.

In many ways, these two devices occupy different ideological positions. Smart TV’s offer an ‘everything built-in’ approach with no extra wires or setup, and full support of the TV remote control. Conversely Chromecast offers a ‘make any TV a Smart TV’ approach: removing the burden of buying a new TV set, and supposedly enjoying greater software support from Google than a Smart TV’s software team could be expected to deliver.

Going by Mediabug data, it appears that Smart TV’s have an unassailable lead, driven by two factors. Firstly, having launched in 2009, they have had plenty of time to refine the user experience and lock in deals with all of the major content providers. Secondly, the advent of the ‘LED’ screen has led to TV’s being thinner and more desirable than ever. As a result, they are arriving in homes regardless of their ‘Smart’ functionality – with the possibility of the user discovering and activating such functionality at a later date.

However, it’s not all as simple as that. In October 2013 a number of tech blogs began reporting that Smart TV’s were found to be some of the worst culprits when it came to tech security. Only one month later, a particularly savvy user discovered that when he plugged a portable hard drive into his Smart TV, information about its contents was sent to a third party. And in February of this year, it was reported that Smart TV’s with voice recognition features can be set to constantly listen to voices and send what it hears off to third parties.

These events point to a particular weakness on the part of Smart TV’s – users just don’t believe that device manufacturers have the ability to create Smart TV software at the level of a software giant like Google. As a result, they expect Chromecast will be secure, and will continue to evolve, but expect that their new Smart TV will lose support at some point or another, as new generations of Smart TV’s are produced. After all: Google’s objective is to get you using Chromecast, whereas a device manufacturer’s objective is to get you to buy their devices. Different philosophies that may manifest themselves in different levels of support for consumers as time goes by.

Currently, there is little mainstream appreciation of these finer points, and barring a security incident that really resonates with mainstream consumers, Smart TV’s will continue to enjoy dominance through their support for a large range of apps, and the passive arrival of new TV sets in UK homes.

In the USA, Chromecast might be in a slightly different position. Unlike in the UK, the US does not have the freely available public service Catch Up VOD players that can create a stark differentiation between platforms. As a result, each device supports Youtube, Netflix, Hulu+, HBO Go, and the odd premium sport app, and are therefore only left to quibble over other inconsequential apps. In an environment where the distinction between content is negligible, the argument about software security and support might prove a balance that swings in Chromecast’s favour.

But here in the UK, Smart TV’s have first mover advantage, and Catch Up Player support. Google may have plans to pursue the Catch Up Players that are currently missing from Chromecast, but until then, Smart TV’s will continue their growth in both usage and penetration of the market.

Mediabug Wave 6 is now available. More information and free sample at: https://www.decipher.co.uk/mediabug

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