Broadcast to Chromecast – is TV being recast or cast out?


This article is by Jim Macnamara, Professor of Public Communication at University of Technology, Sydney. It originally appeared on The Conversation.

analysis There are several large quite expensive pieces of electronic equipment in my house and in most homes that are the site of a long overdue technological revolution. Despite being in the “Internet Age”, most of these large chunks of hardware do not connect to the internet. While evolving from a large industrial age box to a flat screen and even curved screens, they only recently went digital and are among the dumbest pieces of electronic equipment currently in use.

I am of course talking about TV sets. My refrigerator is almost as intelligent. My iPod-connected sound system is definitely smarter and our cars positively brim with computer, satellite and, increasingly, internet connectivity.

So Google’s recent Australian launch of Chromecast is no surprise. The TV industry has left the door to a A$4 billion vault wide open by continuing to broadcast re-runs of 1950s, 1960s and 1970s sitcoms and soaps along with copycat cooking and home renovation shows with just enough live sport and news breaks to get us away from our notebooks and tablets occasionally. Pay TV was going to bring Nirvana with 10 squillion channels and unlimited choice, but all we got were B-grade movies and even more copycat cooking and “reno” shows.

Media cutbacks have eroded quality in news and our sympathies and concerns must go with our dwindling cadre of employed journalists. But what has the rest of Australia’s TV industry been doing with its profits over the years and what are they thinking? The axing of Ten Network’s breakfast program Wake Up after attracting an average of just 30,000 viewers are signs of the formulaic (read old formula) approach of TV in Australia.

Little wonder that Google has plugged itself into the under-utilised TV sets of Australian homes by launching Chromecast, which started in the US in July last year with immediate success. For those who have been asleep or watching broadcast TV, Chromecast is, in Google’s words, “a thumb-sized media streaming device that plugs into the HDMI port of your TV set”.

More specifically, it is a A$49 USB thumb-drive size “dongle” that wirelessly connects TV sets to the internet and turns them into internet media hubs. That means users can watch movies, music videos, and other content available online.

But the relative paucity of quality content is likely to take the shine off its launch in Australia. In the US, Chromecast can access Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and a range of live sports shows including Major League Baseball. However, so far, Chromecast users in Australia will only be able to access content from the ABC’s iView service, the Quickflix media rental service, and Foxtel’s fledgling movie service Presto, along with Google’s purchase service for movies and TV shows.

While commending Chromecast as cheap, easy and simple, reviewers have also pointed out the product does not come with a remote control, so users have to use a smartphone, iPad or computer to operate it. There are also other products such as Roku that offer a wider range of content – albeit Australian users need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to access Roku services.

Google Chromecast is also swelling a rising tide of concern around media monopolisation and the company’s position in the emerging megamedia landscape.

Google will use not only use Chromecast to launch a takeover of TV, but it will also use it to cross-promote Google Chrome, Chromebooks, and other Google apps. You can be sure that Google Search will favour Chromecast content.

The founder of the independent community Weblog publisher MetaFilter, Matt Haughy, recently hit out at Google’s domination and control of media content, claiming that a change in the company’s advertising and page-ranking algorithms caused a 40% collapse in MetaFilter’s advertising revenue. Salon columnist Andrew Leonard says Google’s page-ranking algorithms “determine whether publishing outlets live or die”. Will it be the same for TV and online video?

Ben Bagdikian’s book, The New Media Monopoly pointed out that five megacorporations dominated the world’s media content during the late twentieth century. After a brief euphoria about the the internet democratising media, we again face a situation in which a few corporate giants – Google, Facebook, and Microsoft – are gaining control of cultural production and distribution.

However, after watching several minutes of blatant promotion of gambling integrated into the sports commentary, as well as gambling ads during the State of Origin Round One on broadcast TV, I might give Chromecast a go. As the chief product officer of Netflix Neil Hunt said recently, traditional TV is dying. He forecast an end to TV commercials, programs that are 48 minutes long to comply with the tyranny of prime time and advertising schedules, and “cliffhangers” that leave viewers in suspense and frustrated.

I expect more from the biggest screen in my house and, once again, traditional mass media have failed to deliver.

The Conversation

Jim Macnamara does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. Image credit: Google


  1. At some point in the not too distant future, I expect the main screen in our loungerooms to be fully functioning PC’s. They will have the equivalent of a laptop built in, and plenty of capacity to expand storage services.

    We’re almost there now, and everyone seems to be scrambling to get into that niche with simplistic devices such as the Chromecast, but in the end they are a passing fad towards that end goal.

    Once you have your TV as a PC by default, then we really move into the era of what this is heading to, and thats no more than an infrastructure shift in how we access content.

    Apple this week announced its new iOS 8, and a lot of what it is offering (and building on what Android has done before) is heading down that same path. Interaction between devices, just needing a NAS or something similar as the hub.

    We’re heading there faster and faster, and the most popular topic on this site is one of the key delivery needs to get there. Until then, these $50 dongles will do.

      • Oh, same here at varoious times. I have a mac mini and a laptop plugged in now, and if I wanted it, a PC sitting next to it that could be plugged in as well.

        I just expect a PC or similar to be built in at some point in the future is all. Plug in a wireless mouse and keyboard, and away you go. Chrome and Android offer that potential today, and really its not many more off the shelf parts to fill in the gaps to be able to do that.

        Theres already a processor, a graphics chip, a sound chip, several HDMI inputs and USB ports, so not much else is needed. Optional optical drive, storage, and thats about it these days.

        It doesnt need to be a powerful PC, just a capable one.

        Personally, I’m surprised they havent turned a 50″ plus tele into an easy to find all in one unit yet (well… I havent sen one), even as a publicity stunt, or for business use. How much more would it cost?

        On a similar note, I always wondered why Sony didnt build a PS3 into a range of TV’s to combine the capabilities. Could use that for the smart TV functions easily enough.

  2. I like my 2 chromecasts, one in the loungeroom for mum and one in my bedroom.

    I have Plex Media Server on my PC, so mum can watch stuff on her tv and i can on mine, plus the casting of youtube makes it even more fun.

    Being that it relies on wireless, it does suffer from performance if the file you are casting is too big, but meh.

  3. I haven’t watched commercial TV since about 2001. The only TV programs I watch are a handful of ABC programs, which I tend to watch on my PC via iView.

    All I need or want is a big dumb TV screen with WiFi built in (most are these days) so that I can stream content from my PC’s wireless router, and so watch any program I want, when I want.

    For this reason, the chromecast thinggy has absolutely no appeal to me.

  4. I dunno why the author has such an old TV, but my current TV’s both have internet access, wireless and integrate with my Plex media server.
    The idea that the TV will become a PC is wrong; the trend will be in the opposite direction. TV’s are already too smart in a dumb way with fractured functionality across different models and difficulty integrating with other devices.
    The future will be service oriented infrastructure. A monitor (in this case a 65inch high end TV) with just enough smarts to connect to a LAN and expose itself as a streaming target. Then you will orchestrate the streaming of media either from your local server or an internet source via an app on whichever of your tablet, phone or pc you prefer.
    Eventually everything will be orchestrated this way, your mouse, keyboard, monitors, printers, gaming controllers and anything else you can think of will expose services to the LAN and apps will orchestrate them. So you can choose which compute resource outputs to which screen, and which mouse and keyboard you use to control it.
    Oh, and cloud.

  5. Getting access to content other than iView isn’t at all hard with Chromecase. I watched several catchup episodes of “A Place to Call Home” from Plus 7 last weekend after I set up the Chromecast on Saturday morning. Just bring up the show in the Chrome tab. Cast it to the TV then go full screen and there you have a full screen replay of Plus7. When plus 7 and the others all have android apps it’ll be even easier, and that day isn’t far away.
    Why do I want a PC in my TV? I am never going to be running Word on the TV! A browser is more than adequate and using the tablet/phone/PC as a remote works really well except that the picture on the remote device is always slightly out of sync with the TV.

  6. My Samsung TV is fine. I too watch I-view and would watch SBS if their interface were better. Trying to watch a Wallender Movie last night was excruciating. The picture would not go to full screen and the line kept dropping out. ABC I-view is by contrast excellent.

    No need to let a Google dongle lock you in: a USB interface on the TV, an ADSL connection, and a reasonable wi-fi router is all you need.

    Sports in Australia are captured by Foxtel so do not imagine anytime soon getting access except through their expensive channel. However there are ways of getting round their sports monopoly.

    If someone would just have the courage to produce quality broadcasting. Let us pay for what we wish to use and life would be good: better than some corporate somebody deciding what we should watch. Such a model would also allow for niche channels for people who might be interested in crocheting or chess provided they were prepared to pay.

    Governments have allowed capitalism to own the airways. Oligarchy was not what Adam Smith had in mind in 1760. Long live the revolution it is good to see the Murdoch and Packers wriggle a bit.

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