The HDMI cast dongle was legitimised when Google launched Chromecast mid-2013 and since then has gained force as a disruptive product potentially threatening pay TV operators, set top box makers and especially the smart TV. But it actually has a constructive role as a unifying device for the digital home, bringing together traditional pay TV, OTT and User Generated Content (UGC).
That is not quite how Google pitched the dongle, since the pay TV piece was missing from Chromecast, but others such as Soft At Home have proposed more advanced models that bring in broadcast content.
The dongle can also bridge the home network and the cloud, since both UGC and recorded content can be stored either in a home DVR or externally in a network, or a combination of both. Either way, the content can be streamed over Wi-Fi to connected devices, and also to the TV via the dongle. As such the dongle can be seen as an opportunity for existing pay TV operators, rather than being a threat by providing a low cost entry point for OTT-only competitors. For pay TV operators it is a convenient mechanism for embracing OTT and UGC content within a coherent Cast architecture. Indeed the dongle is helping open a new chapter for content delivery by stimulating OTT/broadcast convergence as the big content houses, pay TV operators and Internet players negotiate the deals that will be inevitable over the next few years as we enter a new era of converged media services.
In any case several market related factors are conspiring to drive forward the dongle. Lower end TV makers are seizing on the dongle as a way of undercutting more expensive smart models with a more flexible and cost effective business approach. More significantly though the dongle has emerged as the best way of bringing together the big screen and mobile devices and combining the advantages of both. For pay TV operators this is enabling the convergence between premium live TV content and OTT, bringing in UGC content as well. For pure play OTT players it enables them to reach the big screen as cost effectively as possible with the optimum quality of service. This is not just fixed line operators, for mobile operators in particular can find a new niche market through casting and become significant players in the pay TV market.
In all deployment cases the trend towards on demand content that is divorced from traditional linear schedules means that powerful navigation, recommendation and discovery tools are becoming more and more crucial. The cast dongle will play at the centre of this emerging content universe and as such operators will be seeking to partner with vendors capable of integrating the casting function with a simplified UI (User Interface). A key factor here will be the emergence of smartphones and tablets both as companions to enhance the TV experience and as UI devices themselves for searching and selecting content that will prove far superior to traditional cumbersome TV remotes.
At the same time it is proving that while the mobile viewing experience is improving and gaining eyeballs by the day, it will always be inferior to the big screen, above all for long form content. The dongle is well placed to uphold the primacy of the big screen by enabling casting from mobile devices.