Thursday, October 3, 2013

A review of Hulu Plus on Chromecast

I was probably as eager as everyone else in this business to investigate Hulu Plus on Chromecast yesterday.  As I noted in my previous blog, I think Chromecast is potentially the ultimate incarnation of the promise of second screen, giving the consumer the ability to use a device they are interacting with all of the time (smartphone, tablet) to Discover the program they want to watch, then using it to Control the first screen where by Chromecast takes over the stream management of what is being played and the second screen is then freed up for Enhanced viewing experiences and Social engagement.

For Hulu Plus, the positive points for Chromecast are clearly the extension of reach in an ad supported (and subscription) viewing service, giving them a faster route to market adoption.  The video selection occurs in the same Hulu Plus app you are already familiar with, with the option to "cast" the video to your Chromecast instead of watching it on your tablet.  Great.

But we are starting to see some flaws in the promised dream in this implementation of Chromecast.  While we know the market is complaining about how long it is taking for major brands to launch their experiences on Chromecast, here are the shortcomings that need to be address for Hulu Plus:
  • UX inconsistency.  In the YouTube and Netflix apps, you choose a show, get to the detailed episode page, and are then can either hit the Chromecast button (top right) or hit play and it will ask you where to play (your phone/tablet or Chromecast connected TV).  In Hulu Plus, the only way to make it play is to hit the Chromecast button first, then drill into the episode level detail.  Looks like Google needs more than an SDK--there need to be some rules around consistent UX implementation for the experience.
  • No smartphone capability.  The device only worked with my iPad.  In fact the Apple app update clearly explained that the capability was only available there, not on the iPhone.  A very strange decision when there are many, many more iPhones than there are iPads.
  • Significant content / ad pauses.  On my iPad, AppleTV, PS3, PC, etc, the Hulu Plus viewing experience if very consistent.  It transitions seamlessly from the content to the ad, telling me how many ads are ahead of my, and then transitions back to the content in a "TV-like experience".  In this rendition of Chromecast there is a 3-5 second black screen pause in between the content and the ad and in between each ad as well.  The first time it happened, I thought the service had broken and was reaching to restart the app when the ad suddenly appeared.  This pause was unsettling for my wife and son as well.  I noticed that during the ad breaks, the pause was a signal for them to turn their attention to their smartphone for a text, game, etc, where previously with the "TV-like experience" they were more likely to watch the first ad for 15 seconds or more, and if interested, to continue watching.  I think this is going to create issues with ad complete for their service and potentially reduce stream completes as well.  It needs to be addressed.

I am a big fan of Chromecast and think that along with the Xbox, AppleTV and Roku, it will drive adoption of mainstream use for IP-delivered digital video for VOD and Live, creating a new ecosystem for the consumer.  But for Chromecast to compete with the other three established services, it needs to get the experience consistent between implementations of the 3rd party services and ensure they are delivering a TV-like experience.


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