TiVo co-founders bring their Qplay video app to Chromecast, sideline own hardware

Maybe building a dedicated video streaming box that doesn’t even have a Netflix app wasn’t such a good idea, after all: Qplay, the video startup founded by TiVo co-founders Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton, announced a new version of its iPad app Tuesday that adds the ability to cast videos to Google’s Chromecast streaming stick — a significant course correction for a company that launched its own device to compete with Chromecast, Roku and others earlier this year.

Qplay’s app allows users to subscribe to and share queues, or Qs, as the company likes to call them, of online video programming. Think YouTube channels, videos your friends have shared on Facebook, Bloomberg news reports and clips from Comedy Central. Qplay auto-plays queues to transform online video from a constant hunting and gathering into a leanback experience. And with this week’s update, users can also cast these endless streams of programming to Google’s Chromecast.

“It brings the pPlay software to a large group of consumers,” said Qplay CEO Phil Peterson during an interview Monday. Peterson, who had been Qplay’s VP of engineering until March, assured me that the company was going to continue to support Qplay’s own streaming device, which the company introduced in February for $49, for the time being.

QPlay will continue to sell its own streaming player for the time being -- but why would anyone buy the device, now that Chromecast offers the same functionality, plus dozens of additional apps?

Qplay will continue to sell its own streaming player for the time being — but why would anyone buy the device, now that Chromecast offers the same functionality, plus dozens of additional apps?

But during our conversation, I definitely got the sense that the writing is on the wall for Qplay’s box, which looks a bit like an external hard drive with an HDMI port. “We are definitely going to be a software and services-based company,” admitted Peterson, adding that he’d like to possibly build support for other smart TV platforms in the future as well.

A new, exclusive focus on short-form content

That change in direction comes with a couple of significant implications for Qplay. The company initially had plans to also add premium video from services like Netflix and Hulu Plus to its own app, allowing its users to mix and match long-form and short-form video from both free and premium content publishers. However, Qplay didn’t have a partnership with Netflix when it launched earlier this year, and Ramsay showed me a proof-of-concept that was based on Netflix’s mobile app running on Qplay’s hardware instead.

With Chromecast, this wouldn’t be possible, which is why the Qplay team apparently has given up on content from Netflix and the likes. “The next big shift in entertainment is going to be short form video,” said Qplay spokesperson Ashley Martin-Golis.

Qplay also added a few additional features to its app Tuesday, including the ability to search for queues by hash tag, as well as so-called party queues. These are essentially collaborative playlists. It’s a bit like YouTube’s Chromecast app, where users can also build collaborative queues on the fly — with the difference that Qplay’s queues are persistent, meaning that users can go back and rewatch everything, and that party queues can also be edited by users spread out across different locations.

In the end, Qplay’s move from its own hardware to Chromecast is a smart one, since the company couldn’t compete against Google with its own, much more limited hardware. But now that it has embraced Chromecast, it will also have to compete with plenty of other apps for that platform, which puts pressure on the company to get its mobile experience right.