Google and partners Sony, Intel, and Logitech are readying the Next Big Thing in online TV, with Google TV scheduled to first appear commercially at Best Buy in September 2010.
Synopsis: Google TV is a software platform that brings web content to the living room TV. Unlike Web TV of the 1990s, there’s now plenty of interesting, “lean-back” content that looks and sounds enough like traditional TV to avoid repeating the disappointing Web TV experience. So far, Google has been downplaying Google TV in the mass market: no TV ads, no billboards, nothing on any Google sites. The industry press and analysts are going nuts, of course, and the big splash announcement took place at the Google I/O developers conference in May 2010, where a small but important audience of Android developers were ready to get their hands on developer kits. But eventually the mass market is going to want to know more and then decide if they want to add this box to their living room setup.
Based on what’s known so far, here are six important questions to consider when thinking about how well Google TV will get off the ground.
What’s the right user interface device? For a lean-back experience, it might not be optimal to make the user fiddle with a wireless keyboard for entering URLs, search terms, and other text needed to navigate the online media world. Would a hefty remote control be better? Or how about a touchscreen interface appearing on a linked Android phone? Sony and Logitech, and the Android app makers, need to get this right on the first go.
What content partnerships are in the pipeline? Or is the model going to be to only pull content from search and only create pre-built channels for the most popular content sources, without formal partnering? Somehow this seems like a golden opportunity to establish distribution-like partnerships, but this is also a risky, complex ecosystem Google has little experience navigating.
Finding content: satisfying or frustrating? Google mentions partnering with Rovi who’ll roll out a guide app for Google TV. They’ve also tagged Jinni.com’s semantic search solutions to let viewers zero in on content that’s hard to pin down with standard search technologies. The key feature most mass market consumers will focus on when deciding to jump into GTV is likely to be browsing and finding content in a 10,000-channel world without getting overwhelmed.
Pay TV options for Google TV services? Does the model include eventual creation of subscription services, modeled in part on examples like Hulu Plus? Are viewers going to take on another monthly fee for some form of Google-delivered premium content?
Multiple boxes, how’s that work? Speaking of monthly fees, will Google TV integrate smoothly with a viewer’s existing cable box? Or will viewers instead start to seriously consider dropping their cable TV subscription because Google TV delivers most of what they want to watch? How about the folks with a Roku box, or a Wii or Sony Playstation? How will those boxes physically co-exist with the Google TV platform?
What happens to in-place ads? The big question: does Google envision monkeying with the advertising model that applies to the sites and services appearing on the Google TV screen? Do those pre-roll ads on the Hulu site stay in place? Will Google figure out how to place more ads just for GTV viewers? Logic suggests Google will make some attempt to enhance ad delivery capabilities within the GTV platform without doing anything to disrupt ads already in place. This could be tricky, but Google’s solved this in the browser and mobile search environment.