Google Sizes Up Roku and Amazon with New CTV Products

ChromecastSeveral recent moves from Google in the connected TV (CTV) space suggest the tech giant is looking to compete more directly with Roku and Amazon with an upcoming CTV streaming device.

Chrome Story, a Google-focused blog, last week uncovered an unannounced project from Google called Kaleidoscope. Kaleidoscope appears to be a tool within Chrome which would allow users to access content from all the streaming services they subscribe to via one centralised hub.

Then earlier this week, FCC filings from Google emerged which show the company is preparing to release a new version of its Chromecast CTV dongle. Previous models of the Chromecast have just allowed users to cast shows and films from streaming services onto their TV sets. But the new model appears to be heading in a different direction. It will use Google’s CTV platform Android TV and come with an external remote, meaning it can operate without a phone. This would make it much closer in function to a Roku box or Amazon Fire TV stick.

These two moves are likely linked. While Kaleidoscope has only been seen within the Chrome browser, it’s probably being developed for use on Google’s new CTV device says Tal Chalozin, CTO of video ad tech company Innovid.

Chalozin said Kaleidoscope looks like a ’20 percent’ project (Google allows employees to spend 20 percent of their working hours on personal projects which might benefit the company). “Kaleidoscope looks like it would be used as a search UI, to help users manage the convoluted and fragmented streaming world,” he said. “But I don’t think Kaleidoscope itself is a big enough play for Google, Google will want to own the operating system too because that’s where users spend time. And Google thrives in spaces where they own the platform and are able to identify their individual users.”

Google has previously had a crack at the streaming device market with the Nexus Player, released in 2014. The device never really took off, and was discontinued just two years after launch.

But Chalozin says these sorts of devices are essential for getting users onto Google’s Android TV operating system. “In the streaming space, Google almost has a full house”, he said. “It has YouTube which is growing quickly on CTV, they have the Chromecast device, they have their ad tech stack, but the one part they’re missing is a really strong operating system like Roku, TV OS or Samsung. Android TV hasn’t really taken off in the Western world.”

And Kaleidoscope, by helping consumers sort through the increasingly crowded streaming space, might help draw users onto the platform. Though its worth noting it’s not a wholly original concept. There are already dedicated apps to help users sort through all the streaming content they have access to, and competing CTV platforms like Apple TV already allow users to access content from several streaming services via one centralised hub.

The streaming services themselves may also be wary of giving Google access to their content. Kaleidoscope would give Google more control over the user experience, and give it access to search data, helping to strengthen its own YouTube Premium offering.

If streaming services and app owners are wary of Google, they could hamstring its efforts. “Facebook tried to do something similar in the past called Facebook TV, but it failed miserably,” said Chalozin. “The app owners knew what Facebook was trying to do, and said they wouldn’t let Facebook in unless Facebook agreed to not track users or collect device IDs.”

But Google’s ownership of DV360, a big source of demand for AVOD apps, gives it leverage over a large portion of the app ecosystem. And Chalozin said that there is enough competition between CTV platforms for app owners to be less wary of Google dominating the space.

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