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After having published an early analysis on Google TV, I’ve been very curious about the actual product, so once it became available, I had it installed in my home. What was my verdict? For the most part, I have been very impressed – with the integration and the user experience – but there are also some disappointments, over the lack of content. Nonetheless, I have every confidence that the early disappointments will be addressed and that, as a platform, Google TV will ultimately be seen as the game-changer it is.
I have three reasons for this assessment.
1) The content owners’ blockade against Google TV is likely to be temporary
Because they don’t want to disrupt their long-established business models, the major American TV networks have blocked their content from being accessible by Google TV over the Internet. TV is largely driven by advertising, and has been since its very early days. So is Google: 98% of GOOG’s revenue is from advertising as well. So it’s a tug-of-war over ad dollars, and no ad revenue sharing deals have yet been cut. Once they resolve their business issues, the content will flow. It’s as simple as that. It’s ironic, because the TV networks aren’t passing any of today’s online ad revenue back to their local network affiliates, enabling online viewers to watch the local affiliates’ programming, or to do local ad placements – even though IP technology and location-based services make this possible technically.
The TV content that Comcast distributes online via its Xfinity TV online service won’t work on Google TV because it uses Move Networks codecs (and in 2011, Microsoft Silverlight), which current Google TV-enabled devices can’t decode. But also, Comcast seems to see Google TV as competition – in some ways correctly and in some ways erroneously. Comcast is reported to be readying its own Internet TV device, code named XCalibur. So, in that sense, yes, the two devices would be competing over online video ad dollars. But Comcast seems to be ignoring the potential of Google TV as a distribution medium that they can leverage, which is the potential that DISH saw.
2) Industry opinion leaders were nonplussed with Google TV, but impressions will change once it’s understood for what it is
Many in the industry punditocracy have said that Google TV’s success hinges on the availability of programming. True, but that’s only part of the story and is (in my opinion) temporary. They neglect the technology and service integration side of the discussion.
The only Google TV launch partner to date that has implemented the full vision of Google TV is DISH Network (with Logitech and with Sony, although I only have tried DISH with the Logitech Revue). This means that DISH’s TV DVR and EPG metadata are handed off to the Google TV search function, so you see a search result that includes them. That’s real TV through DISH Network, not just Web videos from YouTube (which also appear in the search result).
The other part of the integration is for control of the set-top box. This means that DISH had to write software that ties their set-top box, the Revue, and Google TV via their respective APIs. If a program turns up in the search result and you want to DVR it, you press the DVR button on the Logitech Revue keyboard (or the regular DISH remote) and that’s it.
3) Google TV is not being merchandised or positioned correctly at retail.
If you go into a Sony Style store or a Best Buy (both were Google TV launch partners), you’ll find Google TV set up for demonstration. But in my experiences, both were set up with DirecTV, which hasn’t done the Google TV integration. Also, most sales people in consumer electronics shops are not subject matter experts, or trained on Google TV.
When the Sony person told me that he happened to be the designated “go-to” person for Google TV, I thought “Great, you don’t see that too often anymore! I got the right guy.” So I confidently picked up the remote and searched for a popular movie that I know is on pay TV right now. When I asked whether a Google TV search result would include TV programs and movies, he said “yes.” What a let-down when the only search results were the movie’s Web site, a Wikipedia entry, and some trailer videos on YouTube. No “real” TV. I guess he thought that, because the content was tied with something that’s on TV now, that it qualified as “TV.” I knew better, and more importantly, consumers do too.
The other disappointment was that the Sony products use this little game-controller-like remote control, and you have to press a trigger to use the keyboard. Reminiscent of the IBM PC Junior of the early 1980s. Because the Google TV integration has not been done with DirecTV, the retail experience quickly got into a mode where I was using the little mouse controller on the Sony remote. To be charitable, I’ll just say that this violates the most basic principles of TV user interface design 101, and did not pass the 57-year-old curmudgeon test.
But Google TV, as a technology and as a tool-set – and as a concept that addresses new expectations about what TV should be – is a really good effort. What it needs is consumer awareness that rises above noise-level. If Google has the wherewithal to give away 10,000 Logitech Revues to developers, and now, 100 free 46? HDTVs to consumers, why not deploy their minions to Best Buy and Sony Style stores to make sure it’s set up with DISH and to demonstrate it correctly?
Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges – as the old adage says, “beware of version dot-oh software.” We’ll see if the updates shipped by Google and Logitech. in mid-December made a difference. I am told that DISH is working on some tweaks also. Hopefully, at some point, the technology will be refined sufficiently so it doesn’t require a companion device like the Revue.
And this just in. According to a story in The New York Times of December 20 2010, Google has asked its partners to pull their Google TV products from CES in early January. Ostensibly, it’s to “refine” the software. Still I wonder – has the fact that the major TV networks are blocking their programming from Google TV caused Google to blink?
To which I say: give it time, and remember that it also took years for the content owners to trust IPTV.