The maker of Android will partner with home theater giant Vizio to include its Chromecast technology in a series of forthcoming TVs, according to Variety. The deal could benefit both firms, and strengthen Google's living room ecosystem, as it continues to compete with Apple (AAPL 1.48%) and Amazon (AMZN 1.84%) for market share.
Surging demand for Chromecast
Google has tried many times to take over the living room. In 2010, it launched Google TV, a platform that promised to transform any television set into an almost full-fledged computer. But Google TV was complex, and the platform failed to gain traction. Within just a few years, Google's hardware partners dropped their support. In 2013, Google tried again, this time launching Chromecast -- its low-cost, and considerably less complex, streaming dongle. Then, in 2014, it unveiled Android TV. These initiatives have found varying degrees of success.
By almost any measure, Chromecast has been a hit. Among dedicated streaming devices, it was the second-most popular in the U.S. in 2014, capturing about 20% of the market according to Parks Associates. Worldwide, it's been even more popular. Earlier this month, research firm Strategy Analytics reported that Chromecast was the top-selling streamer in the world in 2015, selling some 14.7 million units. To date, Google has sold about 27 million Chromecasts in two and a half years. In contrast, Amazon has sold fewer than 10 million Fire TV devices. Apple has sold about 37 million Apple TV units, but has been selling its device for far longer -- about 9 years.
Chromecast over Android TV?
Android TV incorporates Chromecast technology (owners of Android TV devices can cast to them in an identical fashion), but takes it a step further, with a dedicated interface that more closely resembles the fourth-generation Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. Google began selling its own Android TV set-top box (the Nexus Player) in 2014, and was joined by NVIDIA and Razer in 2015. However, none of these devices have found much success.
Android TV has been more popular with television manufacturers -- Sony, Sharp, and Philips have all opted to use Android TV in place of their own proprietary smart TV platforms, and TCL and Hisense have announced their support. These are nice wins for the platform, but the major television manufacturers, most notably Samsung and LG, remain holdouts.
Vizio doesn't have an international presence, but it was a leading seller of smart TVs in the U.S. in 2014, capturing about 35% of the market as it sold just over 7 million sets. Vizio's adoption would go a long way toward driving interest in the Android TV platform, at least in North America.
It's interesting, then, that Vizio would opt simply for Chromecast technology rather than the full Android TV operating system. Variety notes that Vizio could ship its Chromecast-powered TVs with a dedicated Android-powered tablet, which could act as a unique controller -- a differentiating aspect for the company's sets. Regardless, it should benefit Google, as the millions of future Vizio smart TV buyers would serve to expand the broader Chromecast ecosystem, ensuring the support of future streaming apps.
In Vizio's S1 filing released last July, the company warned that its own homegrown smart TV platform was failing to keep pace with those of its rivals. "We do not currently have arrangements with all of the popular content providers, including some content providers that are available on competitive devices, such as ESPN and HBOGo," it said. WatchESPN and HBOGo are available for Chromecast, along with many other apps. That should make Vizio's sets more enticing to potential buyers.
The smart TV market remains in its infancy, and is still heavily fragmented. Adding Vizio to its list of partners would be a big win for Google.