Now TV Box and Chromecast: streaming just hit the mainstream

Now TV - cheap and cheerful
Now TV - cheap and cheerful

Sometimes you need to bring in the big guns to force change.

TV and movie streaming may have been steaming ahead for years, with the BBC iPlayer the master of marrying new technology with the mainstream, but moving on-demand content from the laptop to the TV has been a cumbersome task.

The problem hasn't been availability. On-demand services are everywhere – most new TVs are smart, many a Freeview box now come with iPlayer as standard, games consoles are media hubs waiting to be taken advantage of. The problem has been public awareness.

Now that Sky has come along with its £10 Now TV Box, and the inevitable big-budget adverts showcasing the device, the UK public is about to be educated in the ways of streaming like never before.

Now is the time

The Now TV Box has been pitched perfectly. Its price is bargain basement and it's being delivered by a brand everyone knows.

Yes, it's essentially a rebranded Roku box restricted to Sky's chosen apps – don't expect rivals Netflix to be made available – but it will succeed in bringing on-demand content to those who have never even thought about getting television content through their router, because it has been made by Sky.

It's the rebranding that's key. Roku, for all of its technical prowess, is unknown outside geeky tech circles. And this device leads a long line of forgotten streaming kits: Boxee box, Slingbox, Fetch TV... all came close to living the stream dream but didn't entice consumers.

Sky is going down the iPlayer route, telling customers not to worry about how the thing works just that you plug it in, give it your Wi-Fi password and it brings web content to your TV.

It is selling the sizzle, not the sausage. Nobody cares whether their shows come from a dish, an aerial or the internet and Sky knows this – all users want is it to be easy to access the programmes they want and that's what this box will do.

When in Chrome

Google is going down a similar route in the US with Chromecast. Sell it cheap, possibly at a loss, then tempt users with paid-for content once the device is in their homes.

It has taken Apple a long time to make Apple TV viable, it took Google a short time to understand that its first stab at online content with Google TV just wasn't working. And an even shorter time when it came to the Nexus Q.

This all comes down to price. These devices are investments, while the Now TV box and Chromecast are cheap impulse buys.

They may ultimately cost more when your add up subscriptions and pay-per-view bits and pieces, but the upfront costs are minimal enough to entice - and Sky and Google know this.

Television and movie streaming is hitting the mainstream. Recent figures from the BFI show film streaming alone is up 50 per cent in the UK, while Sky's latest figures revealed that the latest season of Game of Thrones broke new records for on demand viewing across all platforms, garnering 2.3 million views on Sky Go.

These are big numbers and Google and Sky's small devices are set to make them even bigger.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.