A few days ago, Google announced newly revised icons for its Play-branded apps. Newsstand was the first to emerge with the updated look, but aside from very minor tweaks to a few of the icons inside the app, there wasn't anything significant to be seen. The Play Movies & TV app received a pretty similar update, again with a few minimal icon changes and the new launcher icon, but there's actually something more interesting in the teardown: new rules about streaming paid content when it's shared in the family library.
After Google announced the new icons, I insisted that AP should not post about the individual updates if those were the only changes worth pointing out. We've got a legitimate teardown below, so why not give the icons a nod? The old icon on the left and the new one on the right. Get used to it, the updated style will probably be around for a while.
Streaming From The Family Library
If you've been following along for a while, you probably remember that Google is planning to launch a new feature allowing a small group of family (and close friends) to share paid Play Store content and apps amongst each other. Some of our previous teardowns have revealed quite a bit about how the Family Library will operate, including most of the rules and restrictions. A few of the details surrounding family organizations were even confirmed with the launch of Family Plans with YouTube Red and Play Music.
Naturally, there are still some unanswered questions, but thanks to the latest update to Play Movies & TV app, we know just a little more than we did before. Specifically, we now know that there are going to be some limits on multiple people watching shared content simultaneously. Actually, there are two separate limits, so I'll discuss each one individually.
No Simultaneous Playback
The first restriction is probably the most obvious and predictable: an individual video cannot be played by two or more people at the same time. This should come as no real surprise–if a family member pays for a single license and shares the movie, there's still just the one license that each subsequent member is effectively checking out while they watch. I won't pretend this is totally logical, but it's likely a side effect of the typical rights management rules studios like to enforce.
<string name="error_simultaneous_playback_by_family_detected">Playback stopped because a family member is playing this video on another device.</string>
You might be asking how often this will be an issue. The best example I can picture is a road trip where the parents set up a couple of kids in the back seat with a pair of tablets so they can watch the brand new movie from their favorite franchise. Plenty of parents can attest that many kids won't do well with trying to share a single tablet, and there's no chance they're going to get away with telling one kid they can't watch the movie until the other is finished. Even if this example seems a bit contrived (let's be honest, it really is going to come up a lot), it's not hard to think up a few other examples, like the co-watching thing some couples do when one member has to travel for work while the other stays home.
Since this is probably a requirement Google had to put in place as part of the content distribution deals, I'm pretty sure there's going to be no sway on how this works. It actually raises a different concern in my mind. The obvious, albeit undesirable solution to this scenario is to purchase or rent a second copy of the desired movie for the second watcher to enjoy. However, previous teardowns have suggested that the Family Library will only allow a single copy of a paid item to be shared, and may even block individual purchases if something is already available in the library. I won't parse out all of the possible ways this could become a complicated rats nest of error messages, but it's not hard to imagine the confusing and over-complicated experience this could lead to.
At least there will probably be one fairly simple workaround for this issue: download a copy of the movie and then take one (or more) of the viewing devices offline to watch it. Google probably won't block offline viewing for content from the Family Library because it would interfere with scenarios like watching movies on a camping trip. It's not a great fix for every situation, but it should be enough to help keep those kids occupied for a couple of hours.
Too Many Streams At Once
While it's not too hard to understand where the first limit came from, the second one is harder to justify. It looks like there will be a hard limit on the total number of videos that can be streamed from the Family Library at one time. There aren't any clues in the resources to suggest what the hard limit will be, but the presence of a message like this is a bit threatening.
<string name="error_concurrent_playbacks_by_family">Playback stopped because too many shared videos are playing at the same time.</string>
The implication here is that every family member is watching something different, so it won't conflict with the first rule about streaming a single movie or television show, but there will still be a maximum number of streams. If we're talking about a family group that's not into watching things together–maybe everybody splits off into separate rooms and turns on their favorite shows–it's entirely possible to hit this limit.
Again, the first policy made sense because it can be argued that a single license for a video doesn't necessarily bestow the right to view it simultaneously on multiple devices. That may be a bit dumb in the modern age of digital streaming, but that's where the legal issues of the old guard collide with the the practical flexibility of technology... But that's a discussion for another time. The problem with this second policy is that it means the Family Library might lock down access to a limited number of family members even when a separate license is owned for each of the requested videos.
If my interpretation is correct, this could serve as a reason to be more careful about which accounts are used to buy things. It's unlikely that this rule will impact videos purchased and watched on a single user's account, even if they are also shared to the Family Library, so it might not be a good idea to keep everything on a single account (like the Family Manager or a generic shared account).
Again, the workaround to this issue will probably involve planning around offline viewing, but that's only viable for tablets and phones, and it's certainly not the best user experience. Hopefully this rule, if it remains in place, won't be too draconian. I don't think there will be many problems if the maximum number of streams is cut off at 5 (out of a possible 6), but I would expect a really negative response if the max sits at 3, or maybe even 4 simultaneous users.
With Google I/O barely more than a month away, we can probably expect to see these details clarified, and there may even be a few last-minute changes. We've also yet to see if there are going to be similar restrictions on the other Play content stores like Books and Music. It's safe to say that the rules will vary for each type of content, but by how much? Content is already enough of a mystery, but I think the real question is whether or not there are going to be similar restrictions on apps and games.
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