Philo, a skinny-bundle TV streaming service, is adding one of its most requested features: the ability to watch with Google's streaming devices. But the company is doing it with a bit of a twist. In addition to simply casting video onto a TV, 's Chromecast support was developed as a technological precursor for features like social viewing and watch parties between multiple users no matter where they are, the company said.
Philo's Android app adding Chromecast is the first step in what the company is calling Philo Connect.
"Chromecast has been by far and away the highest requested feature for Philo, and it's fair to say we're a little behind the curve," Philo CEO Andrew McCollum said Friday, during an interview at the OTT Blitz virtual conference. "However, part of why it took us longer ... is that we've approached it in a totally different way."
McCollum compared the technology to Spotify's own Connect system. Spotify Connect is part of the service's app on your phone, but it actually allows your speakers or music system to stream tunes from Spotify directly -- so you don't run your phone down and it simply acts as your remote control.
Philo's riff on this concept at first will simply enable Chromecast casting to TVs. But as Philo Connect progresses, it'll allow Philo viewers to also watch a show with friends, with everyone's viewing synchronized together on any devices, not just Chromecast. It lays the groundwork for Philo to add social features like watch parties.
Streaming has grown more popular than ever during, and with people forced to socialize in ways that keep them far apart, so-called digital watch parties have grown in popularity too. But co-viewing features aren't often built into the streaming services themselves; instead they're usually enabled by third-party web-based apps or widgets that you tack onto a service.
The reason is, as McCollum puts it, "the interface is so bad."
"If you're using one of those remote controls with up-down-left-right-OK [buttons], how are you going to create a watch party with your five or 10 closest friends?" McCollum said. Narrating phone numbers into a voice remote, or hunting with the arrow pad to type in email addresses letter by letter, can be "mind numbingly annoying."
The effort behind Philo Connect would mean not only that your phone could act as a remote control for your TV, but that you could also use your phone to easily share a link with friends, synchronize a group's viewing experience, and text or communicate with them while you're all watching together. "It opens up all these possibilities," McCollum said.
After the initial launch of Chromecast support in its Android app over the next couple of weeks, Philo said, it'll start adding Philo Connect to more devices, including Apple's iOS mobile devices, its own web service, Amazon's Fire TV and Roku.
Google's YouTube TV or Dish's Sling TV, offers its live channels for cheaper than most competitors -- $20 a month for more than 60 channels -- by steering clear of sports and broadcast networks, the most expensive ones to license. Instead, Philo offers a seriously skinny bundle of TV networks focused on entertainment, like AMC, Discovery, Nickelodeon and others., a virtual TV service along the lines of