Netflix, YouTube Team Up To Bring DIAL To The World
January 23, 2013

Netflix, YouTube Team Up To Bring DIAL To The World

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Second-screen technology was nearly everywhere at this year´s CES. It´s such a simple idea, and one that Apple has had for more than 2 years: What´s found on your smartphone or tablet should be easily broadcast to a second screen, most often a television. The advancement of the tech behind this feature has allowed the idea to expand, and now our content is mostly free to float about the house, bouncing from one screen to the next with relative ease.

Now, two streaming powerhouses have teamed up to take on Apple and create the one second-screen protocol to rule them all.

Called DIAL, (a clumsy acronym for “Discovery and Launch”) this system will pair mobile apps with a compatible device, such as a smart TV or set-top box. Developers who want to write an app with this second-screen functionality will be able to use this protocol and bring streaming to any device.

“We also felt that having two major video services define and promote DIAL would help get it more widely adopted as a common solution to a common problem, vs. taking a proprietary approach. It´s been a productive partnership and we´re confident that we´ll get wider adoption because of it,” explained Scorr Mirer, the director of product management at Netflix in an email to Janko Roettgers of GigaOm.

So far, the Netflix-YouTube partnership is working; They´ve been able to gain the support from some other key players, such as the BBC, Hulu, Samsung and Sony.

According to a report by GigaOm, DIAL could one day be a strong enough competitor to send Apple running scared. Yet, as it stands, DIAL seems mostly harmless and a bit inconvenient.

This system was quietly showed off at CES this year. Engadget mentioned it briefly while writing about Netflix´s Super HD and 3D streaming, saying that it could improve the way devices such as the PlayStation 3 interact with smart TVs.

The DIAL system works by discovering when other DIAL devices are nearby. For instance, when a user pulls up a DIAL-enabled app on their smartphone, it will recognize that there is a DIAL TV connected to the same network. This user can, for example, open up the Netflix app on their Android device, search for what they want to watch, and then launch the Netflix app on the TV and begin watching their selected program.

This is the key difference between Apple´s AirPlay and DIAL. Whereas AirPlay streams or mirrors from one device to the Apple TV, DIAL can actually launch apps. This is a win for DIAL, meaning rather than having to rely on a smartphone or tablet to use an app, users can run these apps on a much larger screen. The mobile device, in a sense, then becomes a remote rather than a serving dish.

While this kind of functionality is incredibly cool, it could also be DIAL´s greatest weakness. In order to share apps with DIAL, all enabled devices (smartphones, tablets, and TVs) must have said app installed. DIAL will direct users to the respective app stores to download these apps, but if an app isn´t yet ready to be used on a large television or small (-ish) smartphone, the two are then rendered incompatible.

Those developers willing to support DIAL will almost certainly write apps for all sorts of devices, but these developers could also have to port the same app to multiple platforms to do so.

According to the GigaOm report, we should expect to see DIAL-ready apps in the “next several months.” As for televisions, Netflix´s Mirer wasn´t so forthcoming as to discuss hardware partners or release dates.