Google has been eager to get into television for a while now. First there was Google TV, which fell flat after content owners blocked it and consumers complained about the quality. Then there was Q, a glowing orb intended to stream media; it died before it ever had a chance. Now there is Chromecast, and there’s no way Google (GOOG) will let independent developers screw this one up.
Chromecast is little device that plugs into the back of a television, allowing users to send video to their TVs from the Chrome Web browser, and it has a lot going for it. At $35, it’s cheap. It’s also compatible with any device that can run apps and a Web browser, unlike Apple TV, which was designed for people using Apple (AAPL) laptops, phones, and tablets. This fits nicely into Google’s stated philosophy of openness. But the company seems to be taking a step to make the device less open.
Over the weekend, Koushik Dutta, an Android developer, complained that Google had intentionally blocked an application he had created that would allow people to stream to Chromecast directly from their phones. This would allow people to watch whatever content they had on their mobile devices—a logical service, it seems, but a step too far for Google, apparently.
“The policy seems to be a heavy-handed approach, where only approved content will be played through the device,” wrote Dutta. “The Chromecast will probably not be indie developer friendly. The Google TV team will likely only whitelist media companies.”
Google said in a statement that it “would like to support all types of apps, including those for local content. It’s still early days for the Google Cast SDK, which we just released in developer preview for early development and testing only.”
Yes, well, if you want to see the brashest Silicon Valley disrupters at their most timid, watch their approaches to television. Apple TV has also been a curiously modest undertaking. This may be changing. This summer, deals between content providers and Internet companies seem to be heating up. Any such changes, though, are going to happen on the content companies’ terms. And the best way to scare away companies such as HBO would be to build Internet-connected television devices that make it easy to watch pirated content.
As it stands, mobile apps can work with Chromecast only if the developer writes that ability into the app itself. It’s telling that pretty much the only apps it works with are YouTube and Netflix (NFLX). James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research (FORR), says that Google will likely tread very lightly until its potential partners get comfortable. And that means giving control to the people who make shows, rather than to those who watch them.