When our app Showyou was first launched, a number of people described it as a new kind of “remote control for web video.” As we improved and refined our service, people continued to describe Showyou that way. Again. And again.
That wasn’t an accident — we bet big and early on Apple TV and Airplay. Indeed, we began work on Showyou literally the week Airplay to the Apple TV was announced, and we have always thought that the phone and the tablet would be the gateway devices to the TV. We wanted — and still want — Showyou to be a service you can use and enjoy on your tablet or phone, or that you can use to control your TV.
We’ve learned a couple of things along the way. First, while we still totally believe that this is the future of TV it’s been slow going so far. Apple TV is still in many ways a hobby product for Apple. Airplay is not yet mainstream. And it’s still way too clunky and cumbersome.
More importantly, we’ve learned that the television is just another screen, not necessarily the “first” screen. As I tweeted with my friend Mark Donovan yesterday, the first screen is now just the screen you happen to be watching. Sometimes that’s your TV, sometimes it’s your smartphone or tablet or your PC. For years people expected some grand unification of the proverbial “living room” with some magical device that brings everything together. But instead the opposite has occurred; we now watch video on a wider range of devices, in a wider range of places. The combination of new devices and new services has liberated us from the couch.
So it’s with that context I took in the Chromecast announcement yesterday. Until we have the device in our hands, can play with it, can build services around it, it’s too soon to say if it will be as disruptive as reported.
Still, I couldn’t help but get excited (and feel a little tinge of vindication) with Google’s announcement. If nothing else, it’s confirmation of the vision we latched on to
two three years ago. Google has joined Apple in putting their chips down, in a big way, on the tablet/phone/pc as the gateway to the TV. If the device works as well as advertised, and gives developers as much control and power as reported, it should be hugely disruptive. And if nothing else, this ought to focus the folks at Apple on the need to make Apple TV more than a hobby product (one assumes this is in the works).
And all of this activity further weakens the moat built up around the TV — a moat that has largely kept the Internet out. It’s no longer a question of whether Internet-delivered programming will get to the TV or how. It’s just a matter of when we reach the tipping point (i.e., where we start to watch more programming over the Internet than via cable & satellite).
The $35 Chromecast and $99 Apple TV also make this clear: your new remote control isn’t a device, it’s a set of services. Aggregators with economies of scale. Netflix is almost certain to be one winner (with the most paying subscribers for a video service on the Internet) and YouTube another (with the most viewers for free, ad-supported programming). There will be a handful of others; other big subscription-focused services (Hulu, perhaps a few others around sports) and other big, free ad-supported services.
Over the past couple of years, some folks thought you could become the new remote control by building a better app, or having a nicer interface. That’s necessary, but not at all sufficient. We’ve always felt that winning in the new world, being one of the remote controls you use, would require more than a nice interface. That you’d have to make it incredibly easy to tune into the things you like, that you care about. And that requires lots and lots and lots of data to do it right, to do it well.
The services that win will be the services with the best data. I’m bullish about Showyou for many reasons, but among the biggest reasons we think we’ll be one of the key remote controls is the data we’ve been stockpiling. More on that soon.