In Depth With Google TV

Many people have asked me to comment in more depth about the announcement of Google TV and what it means to the industry. So, here we go...

First of all, let’s look at what it is.

Around a year ago a number of Far East manufacturers started to experiment with the mobile Android platform as a basis for a set top box platform. Google clearly has aspirations to dominate and mediate all media, with video being central to this. Put these two together and you have your answer. Google TV is a version of Android that provides what would traditionally be called ‘middleware’, or, if you prefer, the ‘operating system’ for your set top box. (Google prefer to call it a ‘browser’, but it’s far more than that.). However, Google TV doesn’t do traditional things like a programme guide, so it currently co-exists in hybrid arrangements with traditional middleware. The initial promise is the web on your TV, and more specifically search on your TV.

So, what does it compete with ?

The arms race is on in the television world to own the viewer’s eyeballs. From the screen manufacturers to the box manufacturers to the network providers to what I term the ‘New Broadcasters’, the ambition is to somehow intermediate the television delivery chain and monetise that position.

The direct competitors are incumbent STB operating system, ranging from Microsoft’s Media Centre to proprietary systems from the likes of Cisco, NDS and Amino, as well as a host of other players. But, frankly none of these have any recognition or critical mass outside the TV industry, with perhaps two exceptions: Tivo and Boxee.

But, what Google TV does challenge are the new standards that are being developed in Europe – and in the UK – Project Canvas.

What we’re experiencing is a rather abstract re-run of the competition that resulted in the adoption of NTSC in the US, SECAM in Europe and PAL in the UK (to be rather simplistic).

And what does Google TV Do ?

Google’s line is that it provides search on TV – it doesn’t go on to explain how the videos, which can be in a variety of formats, will be presented (will they be transcoded, what about the commercials of showing other parties’ content, will it be an opt in system for any content owners?).

So, it’s also potentially bad news for services such as Blinkx and NDS’ Locate TV which are all about discovery.

But actually, it’s IPTV middleware – an OS, a development framework based on Webkit and an Android browser on your PC, er, sorry, STB. The reality is that your set top box and your TV will be a fully fledged PC in future thanks to this initiative and the momentum already present in the industry.

Will it be successful ?

Probably, but I suspect not as Google propose it to be. First of all, due to the overhead of the OS I know for a fact that only Intel chips can reliably run the setup at present. No doubt other chip manufacturers will catch up towards the end of 2010.

Google are also focusing on a single screen (see the graphic in their launch video), whereas the trend is towards complementary, two screen viewing experiences (although this has been hinted at with a phone remote control app being proposed).

Added to all of this are the strategic complexities of what Google are up to with VP8 and HTML5, both of which also demand serious processing power).

How do you make money from it ?

You don’t, Google do, as with all of their other business models. Only a tiny number of the top publishers will ever make money from working with Google due to the massive percentages of ad revenues they keep for themselves.

Will consumers like it ?

They will if they’re prepare to use their TV as a ‘lean forward’ medium and use a keyboard to control it. This is a hark back to those days in the later 90s when hotel TVs had keyboards for emailing.

And my personal opinion ?

For my part I believe that Google TV vindicates two particular companies we’re involved in at TV Everywhere.

Vidiactive is miles ahead in its thinking and technology in terms of linking web and traditional TVs and providing a lightweight Social Television layer onto devices such as STBs. Indeed, it is highly complementary to the Google TV approach.

Meanwhile Rights Tracker, which is set to roll out its Rights Everywhere API this year, providing on demand rights clearance provides a missing link in all of this since rights issues won’t go away however clever the technology is.

As ever, I suspect Google has underestimated the complexity of the market they are seeking to own, and more and more companies now greet them with frosty smiles rather than open arms.

Finally, it’s worth pointing that a situation that everyone is very excited about now was once a joke: