Google TV promises to combine the experience of television with that of the internet to create a genuinely open platform for innovation. Google has little to lose and everything to gain. So where does that leave prospective platforms like YouView that are largely driven by the ambitions of broadcasters? Why could Google succeed where others have so far failed?
“Google TV is a new experience for television that combines the TV that you already know with the freedom and power of the internet,” promises Salahuddin Choudhary, the product manager for Google TV. “This opens up your TV from a few hundred channels to millions of channels of entertainment across the TV and the web,” he said. “By giving people the power to experience what they love on TV and on the web on a single screen, Google TV turns the living room into a new platform for innovation.”
Google TV will provide a platform for independent developers to create applications, much as they can do for smart phones. The result will be a smart television.
The conjunction of television and the internet has been a focus of convergence for over a decade but perhaps its time is coming.
More people use televisions than mobile phones or computers. Knowing how the web radically transformed those devices, Google TV hopes to see what it can do for the most ubiquitous screen in the world.
Search is central to that vision. Google TV will allow users to search television and the web at the same time, and to switch seamlessly between them. Subscribers to a pay-television platform like Dish Network will be able to use Google TV to access and set their digital video recorder.
With the Chrome browser and support for Adobe Flash, Google TV will be able to access most web sites. There is a customizable home screen, providing rapid access to favourite channels, web sites and applications.
Google TV will come loaded with apps like YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Video on Demand. Users will also be able to subscribe to podcasts. They can create a television playlist, sending shows to a queue to watch later.
The mobile phone will become a remote control, with Android or iPhone applications as additional user interfaces, even allowing features like voice search. Users will also be able ‘fling’ video viewed on their handset to the Google TV screen.
The Logitech Revue companion box has been launched at $299, complete with a full keyboard controller, with an optional mini controller available. The keyboard controller will also be available separately for $99 for use with other Google TV systems.
Sony will be launching Google TV television and Blu-ray products and no doubt other manufacturers will follow.
An integration between Google TV and Dish Network will enable subscribers to search across local digital video recordings, video on demand programming and web media.
“The active communication between the Logitech Revue and Dish Network will allow for the development of applications which will continually enhance our TV service with web content and data,” said Ira Bahr, the chief marketing officer for the satellite television service.
Soon after launch, a Google TV software development kit and web application programming interfaces will be released. Google TV uses the open source Android operating system originally developed for mobile phones. Applications for television will be made available through the Android Market.
Many had hoped for something similar from the latest version of Apple TV, based on the phenomenal success of applications on other Apple iOS devices like the iPhone and the iPad. Although not available yet on the Apple TV, it seems inevitable that Apple will open the product up to such applications, if only in response to Google TV.
The difference is that Google TV promises to be more open than the Apple world, which brings both advantages and disadvantages.
So which platforms will developers target? Probably the ones with the most users and the ability to reach the widest audience and deliver the highest revenues.
Where does that leave platforms like YouView, the joint venture between British broadcasters and network operators, which has yet to launch and has released only sketchy specifications? At a distinct disadvantage, one might suppose.
Some might suggest that more television centric broadcaster platforms will deliver a more integrated user experience. That assumes that what is mainly missing from television is the ability for viewers to catch up on programmes that they may have missed.
It is certainly far from clear that users want to search for programmes, or even know what they want to watch, without the guidance of channel schedules.
Yet it will only be a matter of time before applications emerge that bring a new order to the problem of what to watch. And it may not be the traditional television channels and programmes that we used to want to watch.
As Google acknowledges: “The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don’t even know what the coolest thing about it will be.”
Google has little to lose in giving away a platform for internet television, and everything to gain from its adoption.
It is early days for Google TV, which currently has virtually no share of the television market. It is not as if everything Google touches turns to gold. Its success in television is far from certain.
Some have suggested that Google needs a more powerful programming proposition, but that may be missing the point. The opportunity for Google is to gain a deeper insight into user behaviour across television and the web.
Unlike many major media companies, that generally consider themselves to be in the content business, Google is in the advertising business, from which it derives the vast majority of its revenue.
Consequently, Google is approaching the connected television game from a perspective that is orthogonal to most in the market. Which is why it just might be successful.