Shortly after I had time to play with Google’s new Chromecast with Google TV built-in, I talked about how it was truly the little things that caused it to win me over. Things like a specific feature of the remote and aspects of the live TV feature from Youtube TV, to name a few. While those things still hold true for me, I felt it would be a disservice to everyone reading if I didn’t also discuss my gripes with the new device. Yes, it’s pretty amazing, but it’s far from perfect and I have a lot to say about how Google can improve it. Before we get started, I will say that I won’t bother talking about its lack of Stadia support today, primarily because it sours my mood a bit when I think about how much I miss playing Marvel’s Avengers on my 65″ TV, but more so because we’ve already covered it in a separate post.
The biggest ‘problem’ with the new Chromecast
With that out of the way, I’d like to put the spotlight on what I feel is the Chromecast’s biggest issue. Mind you, this is an issue that I don’t ever see being fixed, because, well, it’s one that is intentionally built into its very DNA. The fact that I can’t hide content from services I’m not paying a subscription to is really ruining the experience for me quite a bit. The beautiful cover art is done so well in Google TV’s new UI and it gets me super excited to simply click and watch – something Google has stated several times in their marketing as the intention of the redesigned device – but each time I do, I’m quickly reminded that much of what I visit is locked behind a paywall. Sling TV, Amazon Prime, HBO Max, et cetera. “Just pay for the services you don’t yet have”, you may say, but per month, I’m already paying for Youtube TV ($64.99), Netflix ($12.99), Youtube Premium, and Youtube Music Premium family plan ($14.99), and Disney+ ($8.99) which comes out to over a hundred dollars before tax. Besides, I’m not really interested in having ‘yet another service’, so at this point, I suppose it’s just my loss. It would cost me over $200 per month to be actively subscribed to every single service the Chromecast advertises and I just don’t watch TV enough to justify spending that kind of money. Subscriptions nowadays can feel like financial death by a thousand cuts if you indulge yourself too much.
If you add in my internet bill, I’m already back up to or beyond what I was paying for Charter Spectrum to handle everything for me – even if you don’t add in the extra streaming providers. Cord-cutting started out as a way for consumers to save on costs and have more control over their entertainment experience, but it’s quickly devolved into the same hot mess that cable has been for all of these years. In essence, cord-cutting has just become cable for the modern age. Sure, I love that the entire experience is more modern – from the remote with a voice assistant built-in to unlimited cloud DVR, internet connectivity, a Watchlist, and more, but Google gains nothing by filtering out their content partner’s potential to gain new subscribers. As a for-profit company, I get that monetizing things is important so that they can pay the bills, but I’m beginning to wonder if there’s some way that this can be done without making me feel like I’ve hit a brick wall every time I get excited about hitting the ‘play’ button. Having the ability to just see what I’m paying for and nothing extra is something that standard cable did arguably better, and that makes me sad.
Commercials, commercials everywhere (and ads)
I talk a lot about Youtube TV when speaking of the new Chromecast, but that’s because it’s very much core to the experience. I won’t pretend that I understand all that goes into traditional cable marketing and how Google would have to navigate it in order to get these commercials taken out of the service, but I imagine they have the technical prowess to make it happen. A little bit of AI and machine learning magic and bam! Snip those commercials right out.
Once again, however, the problem is complicated and there probably isn’t a solution – on purpose. As Google search grows and their Knowledge Graph becomes a part of all of their products and services, so does primary money-making business: advertisements. Once again, as a businessman, I’m not knocking them. I actually have a lot of respect for the vision they have for computing and their desire to change the world and I would absolutely be doing the same thing if it meant increasing my company’s capital, but I would be very careful about how I implement such things into the user experience. I believe this extends to their relationships with content partners as it directly affects their end-users.
I think that all we’re asking for as consumers is that the standard by which this is done is re-evaluated. I mean, I’m paying almost a hundred dollars to Youtube alone and still get ads on my smart displays, on third party web page Youtube video embeds (it can’t detect my account?), and on my Youtube TV live TV experiences. If I’m being advertised no ads as a part of my Youtube Premium experience umbrella, then why does that not apply to Youtube TV? Sure, it’s a separate product with more complexity, but it seems like it’s just very confusing to an average consumer.
Maybe the Netflix model has just spoiled me and I’m not really the ‘Live TV’ type of person that I once was. It may just be a personal problem, but I feel like I’m not alone here. With both commercials and ads, there’s nothing more jarring to me than being torn out of Avenger’s End Game so that I can be shown glaucoma medicine at twice the volume of Thanos’ snap. I get it, the world revolves around money, and I also know that Google only has so much control while working with partners, but if we’re going to use all of that incredible artificial intelligence and innovative thinking to re-create the wheel instead of boldly and completely transforming the traditional TV experience, then why even bother?
More improvement recommendations
Everything else on my wishlist for changes to the Chromecast with Google TV seems so minor and inconsequential to the experience compared to the two ‘issues’ I mentioned above, but they would go a long way toward improving things, in my opinion. While we’re on the topic of Youtube TV’s Live TV integration, a quick improvement here would be to avoid showing users content at the top of the “Live” tab that has “ended”. It makes no sense whatsoever to get someone excited about jumping quickly into live content with a quick suggestion card if it is no longer airing. That card is now effectively just dead space on their screen. If this had something to do with the Chromecast’s tabs not refreshing until you navigate away from them and then back again, I can understand why this is occurring, but content updates in real-time when you remove an item from your Watchlist, so I have to believe it’s possible to apply the same programming to the Live tab. By the way, I repeatedly called this “Live TV” in previous posts, but I found out quickly that it’s a vague term that doesn’t clarify much for international readers – thanks, friends!
The issue of not being able to switch between multiple user accounts is a problem that Google has stated they’re actively working to fix, so I won’t say much more here except that it’s close to the top of my list of pet peeves. In my opinion, not launching the Chromecast with this feature in place feels like a serious misstep and one that I very much would have liked to be a fly on the wall for at the moment it was decided. I get that Google is developing things that I have no business pretending I understand, but I think that a delayed product is better than a product that portrays an identity other than what its creators intended for it. First impressions are everything, as they say.
I’ll just throw in here as well that the ability to have a sort of Kid’s Space styled Chromecast profile for children would be welcomed. I’ve spoken to many parents who have said, just like me, that the Chromecast isn’t exactly kid-friendly. There are pin codes and passwords to protect mom and dad’s credit cards against “accidental” purchases, but the cover art for pretty much anything we adults would watch the reason why I keep my Chromecast off during the hours my son is awake. I know that it’s largely on the parents to – you know – be parents, but Google is doing such a great job this year of making everything so family-friendly that I would love to see how they approach creating an isolated interface that gets my son excited about Youtube Kids, PBS Kids, Nickelodeon and more. Right now, all he cares about is playing with the Assistant on the remote and toying with the smart lights.
In order to give that home theater feel, I think that TV shows and movie listings should autoplay trailers like Netflix does. It really draws you in to have visuals and booming audio before deciding to hit play! I know that some people don’t like the idea of autoplay videos because it takes more WiFi to have them constantly running, but the pandemic “movie going” experience feels a bit less immersive without them.
The little things
Okay, it’s time for the quickfire round! Let’s finish this discussion off with a few more improvements to the new Chromecast with Google TV. I would love to see the “Continue Watching” section of the “For You” tab moved up to the very top, just below the feature section. It only makes sense to show users where they left off before advertising more movies and shows to them, right? Well, it makes sense to me anyway. Next up, If Google can’t filter out services that I’m not paying for, then perhaps they can just add suggestion chips or filters for free content or content from a specific app! The Google Play Movies and TV app did this and I was a big fan of it.
Maybe this would allow users to have a more focused, less spammy experience without compromising content partner relationships. It would also provide us with a more consistent experience across all of the device’s content. Google TV has a beautiful interface that puts every app’s UI to shame except for maybe that of Disney Plus. Being able to see all of Netflix or all of Youtube TV (Especially Youtube TV) right in the Google TV UI instead of opening those apps would be amazing. Right now, I feel like this was the intention, but it’s still a very limited implementation. I imagine that the problem with this hope of mine is that Google’s content suggestion system would be vastly different from the one in Netflix and the other apps, but one can dream. Lastly, I would like to be shown a gallery view of my Google Photos instead of a slideshow when I call them up with Assistant, I want a real Google Podcasts app (the current, albeit limited Podcasts UI is very well implemented though),
“I want, I want, I want!” While I probably sound entitled right now, I say these things because I think that overall, Google has built a compelling and beautiful product that is already making waves in the marketplace. I want it to succeed, I really do, but not at the expense of my experience with it. Let me know in the comments section if you share any of my heartaches and if I may have missed something important.