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Google TV: Not an Undead Zombie Product-Yet

Had to respond to a Dan Frommer posting, run on CNN.com a week ago.

Why Google TV isn’t dead yet

Normally Frommer is a sharp analyst, but here I think he’s missed an obvious point. After reporting Google TV anemic sales numbers, he says Google needs to adopt an Android-like strategy: seed the OS on zillions of consumer TV devices. His wrap-up:

“Google TV: It could either become the de facto operating system for consumer electronics and succeed as the Android for TVs and set-top boxes, or it could crash and burn.”



Really? Just those two possibilities? 



My take: Google hasn’t a clue how to market (i.e., build demand) for Google TV. “Shiny/new” and “expensive” aren’t compelling value propositions for general TV shoppers by themselves. Similarly, the TV manufacturers don’t know what marketing buttons to push to light a fire under “Internet TV” sales except Netflix, YouTube, and “not much more expensive than a regular TV.” Buyers jumped on “flat screen”, they jumped on “HD” and “1080p”, they’re kinda running fast towards “LED” and they’re dawdling along towards “3D”. Nothing about Google TV has the same pull as “HD” did. Buyers saw HD, they had to have it. 



Problem is, Google isn’t a marketing-oriented company. They actually need partners to make Google TV into something that’s in the “gotta have it” category. They have a boatload of money to invest, should someone have a good PowerPoint deck with a reasonable concept. Google’s been successful fostering a healthy developer ecology for Android smartphones.

But… but TV isn’t like smartphones at all: smartphones are an incredible versatile platform for a wide range of activities, and Android is the lower levels of the stack needed to open up innovation possibilities at the higher levels–the more apps, the better. Ad-driven Internet TV is a single-purpose platform. TV users don’t want 20, 50, or 100 apps on a lean-back TV: they want to access hundreds or thousands of pieces of relevant content. The two important words here are “content” (with hundreds of content owners, none of whom have any expertise in Internet TV), and “relevant” (the well-known problems of what do I want to watch, how do I find what I want to watch, is anyone I know watching the same thing I am?) 



These are the two areas of focus to create demand for Internet TVs. Google itself doesn’t have the DNA suited to either, but it’s so big and threatening it will have a tough time partnering with those whom it needs to have a hope of making Google TV successful. And it will have little success recruiting lean-back TV device manufacturers to adopt GTV as a connected TV OS and creating the same kind of developer ecology that mushroomed up for smartphones.
Google will have to spend money to buy a lot of expertise it doesn’t have.

What do you think?

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6 Questions About Google TV

July 20, 2010 1 comment

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.

Google Dissing Telecom Laggards on Broadband

February 11, 2010 1 comment

I’m thrilled at the news today of Google’s plan to build a public test-bed high-speed broadband network.

Of course Google isn’t going to build a national 1Gbps overlay network (stop your scoffing, Verizon). As WSJ.com reports, Google product manager Minnie Ingersoll says Google’s just “putting its money where its mouth is” in an effort to prod the FCC to put serious effort into a regulatory plan for advanced broadband. The test-bed, slated for a few towns or small cities, is needed to find out just how much headroom there will be in a network where a high percentage of the packets are carrying video or other latency-sensitive application data, and where there is “open access” rather than the severe throttling of traffic that occurs today in the U.S. carrier networks.

Certainly Google benefits from the actual test-bed, but it’s getting an equal PR bounce from its willingness to tweak the U.S. carriers for their foot-dragging in building faster data networks and committing to net neutrality on them. FCC chairman Genachowski wasn’t shy about praising Google for this “significant trial” and that likely caused some teeth-grinding at the carrier regulatory affairs offices.

Everyone knows Google isn’t going to invest or pull together the kind of investor pool needed to tackle a serious national high-speed network—even though Google could possibly afford it. No, the goal is to highlight the carriers’ hesitations by having a couple of thousand thrilled broadband users appear in news reports and PR videos, saying how great it is to have one wire pour an unlimited river of cool stuff, including a ton of high-definition video-on-demand, into their homes. Google has absolutely nothing to lose.