Why Will Google TV Be Any Different From WebTV? Or AOL TV? Or MSNTV? Or…
At its I/O developer conference Thursday in San Francisco, Google, predicted it would “change the future of television” with GoogleTV, an effort to marry broadcast TV with the Web. And in comments about the announcement, the company’s executives hawked the new software and hardware bundle with similarly aggrandizing pronouncements.
There was this from Google Senior Product Manager Rishi Chandra: “We’re going to have the same impact on the TV experience that the smartphone had on the phone experience.”
And then this from Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “TV has not been reinvented in any significant way since color television was brought in in the mid-1960s.”
With Google TV, Google clearly believes it is ushering in the rebirth of television. But, to Schmidt’s point, sure, TV hasn’t been reinvented in 50 years, but not for lack of trying.
The evolutionary path of the device is littered with failed Internet-TV initiatives. As the Time Magazine cover from Apr. 12, 1993 suggests, this is not a new idea. Nor has it been a successful one, at least not in implementations to date.
Steve Perlman’s WebTV, one the earliest products to bring the Internet to television, failed to gain significant market traction and didn’t do much better after it was acquired by Microsoft (MSFT) and turned it into MSNTV.
AOL TV, America Online’s (AOL) effort to extend its dominance from the PC to the television with a Web-TV hybrid, was scuttled in 2003, three years after it launched.
Brought to market with the help of some impressive hardware partners, like Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Microsoft’s Media Center Extenders never really caught on.
Launched more recently, Yahoo’s (YHOO) Connected TV initiative hasn’t garnered much notice. Then there’s Kodak’s (EK) Theater HD Player, which doesn’t seem to be doing that well either.
So what makes Google (GOOG) think it’s going to succeed where so many have failed? Particularly with a platform that, frankly, looks a lot like TiVo (TIVO) with a Web browser?
Aside from arrogance, that is?
Well, there’s an impressive list of partners. Certainly, adoption of Google TV stands to benefit quite a bit from Sony (SNE), Logitech (LOGI) and Dish Network (DISH) baking it into television sets, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes. And sources tell me other electronics manufacturers will soon join them. Content partnerships with Netflix (NFLX) and Amazon (AMZN) will also help.
But the partnerships that matter most with an effort like this–cable company partnerships–are entirely absent. The simple fact is that cable companies like Comcast (CMCSA) and Time Warner (TWX) not only distribute the majority of the set-top boxes in the U.S, they also have a strong hold over content providers. Unless Google can convince them that their current business model is in need of something like Google TV, pushing the platform into the mainstream is likely to prove quite difficult.
[Image Credit: Time Magazine]