Google TV: The Future of Television?

Can Google TV recover from its initial poor performance in the TV entertainment category?

For those who have been watching Google’s activities in the last couple of years, Google TV has stuck out like a sore thumb as one initiative that has not become a runaway success like many other of their businesses. But is 2012 the year that Google TV finally comes of age and becomes part of how we choose and view our content in the living room?

Google TV launched with Sony back in 2010, offering a Blu-ray device with the firmware and connectivity built-in as well as a television with Google TV, along with a set-top box from Logitech.

Google’s initial entrance into the market was beset by software and product fault issues, with many users unsatisfied by the clunkiness of the interface and lack of real integration into the existing home entertainment environment.

After parting with Logitech, their initial set-top box partner, Google is now focusing a a much more sensible route – the television itself, and expanding its partner base to other brands such as LG.

This makes complete sense to someone looking at this from this outside in. With the advent of Smart TVs, you don’t need or desire additional components invading your already-full TV cabinet – the internet is now available straight from the TV, and integrated Wi-Fi is steadily becoming the standard to make Smart TVs always-connected.

Google TV is the progression of Smart TV rather than the progression of its initial add-on offering, and if Google had launched with this concept instead, it would probably be hailed as a breakthrough in large screen connectivity. Instead, the proposition was left to companies like LG to spruik it along with Google TV employees at the CES, one of which we managed to spend some time with at the stand.

I remember the uproar from publishers when Google started digitising books of its own accord, offending copyright owners and estates. This is one area that Google has not been good at managing: digital rights. So when Google TV launched back in 2010, it was crippled by a lack of licensed content because of worried content providers and had to rely on a select few partners to make up its content library.

Many things have changed now – more than ever, companies are recognising that digital content is the way viewers will consume their media, and there is actually much more competition to cut through to attract viewers, whether paid or not. The rise of companies like Netflix demonstrates that online business models are not only successful, but in some cases the only way forward.

Another factor is the rise of social media. Being able to recommend, rate and interact with friends over platforms was not possible or maybe even desired two years ago. How things have changed. Now we are “liking”, “plus-ing”, and rating everything we consume. Not only that, we are telling all our friends what we like, plus and rate, and this gives Google a huge opportunity to mine these recommendations and come up with profiles for each viewer.

The third is the hardware. TV manufacturers have now matured and learned from their experiences in Smart TVs that the online experience has to be on par with that of mobile and PC devices, whether it’s streaming, browsing or playing.

So maybe it was a case of the rest of the world catching up with Google on their vision of what the TV experience should be like. But there was one ingredient that was still missing – a robust platform that could be upgraded and used intuitively by anyone in the household. Google’s own Android platform now forms the base for the software that runs the Google TV interface, and with it comes a few core benefits that were not available back when the original service launched.

For example, access to the Android Market is huge plus. With a Google account you can download apps and use them on the TV, and Google has ensured that only apps that are of high enough quality to be used on a big screen are filtered through. Another strong feature is the development of apps specific to Google TV, so that content can be accessed via an app rather than simply searching online.

However, at the end of the day, Google TV is still all about search, and how you find your content is the core proposition of Google TV. To that end, Google have licensed broadcaster TV schedules all over the US to ensure that no matter where you live, the information will be localised to you. Whether you search by genre, by cable channel, pay per view or a YouTube channel, Google TV will help get you to what you want to watch. The idea of being able to search and select no matter what the source, be it online, free-to-air or via your cable provider is a compelling offer.

With learning capabilities, the idea of channel surfing becomes redundant and instead profiled and socially pushed content will be on your front screen from now on. The keyboard control may be a little anachronistic to some, but until there is an easier way to enter search terms, QWERTY will be your friend.

With Microsoft and Xbox making their move into the home entertainment territory, and with it their voice controlled Kinect system, and the mythical Apple Television that may make its debut late this year, it’s important for Google to get a foothold now in this extremely competitive market.

Unlike Apple, Google don’t own content per se, but facilitate the delivery of the media to your lounge room. Therefore, the interface and overall experience needs to be intuitive and as universal as possible in order to entice users to upgrade their TVs, or choose a Google TV when it’s time to purchase a new one.

We caught up with Paul Saxman, who works with developers at Google, focusing on Google TV. He took us through a few interesting features of the Google TV platform and showed us how far the integration of Google TV into content from multiple sources has come.

First, here Paul takes us through the importance of the Android Market and the Chrome browser for Google TV:

 

And here, Paul takes us through content searching and selection.

 

What do you think? Is Google’s TV offer strong enough to bring forward the purchase of a new TV with Google TV built-in, or to sway you towards one when you start looking for a new television? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

(thanks to @Level380 for the feedback on the original version of the article)