Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google’s Cable TV Lineup: A Wishlist

The cable guys are getting into the Web video business. Now Google is about to get into the cable business. So what will that look like?

Google has asked federal regulators for permission to sell pay TV in Kansas City, where it has been working on a broadband/fiber buildout, and the WSJ thinks it could launch in a couple months.

It would be awesome if Google could use this as an opportunity to break up the cable bundle, and let people buy individual channels instead of big expensive blocks of programming they mostly ignore.

But that’s very unlikely to happen, because the cable programmers love the bundle, and don’t have any incentive to break it up (see: Viacom’s Philippe Dauman and ESPN’s John Skipper last month at Dive Into Media). If Google wants cable TV programming, it’s going to have to play by cable TV’s rules.

So what can Google offer that will make someone switch from Time Warner Cable, which dominates the pay TV business in Kansas City?

Very high-speed Internet access, for starters. And perhaps Larry Page will figure it’s worth his while to offer the service at an extremely low margin, because the whole project is a very expensive test, anyway.

Beyond that, here are some guesses/predictions from Bernstein Research analysts Carlos Kirjner and Craig Moffett, who have a pretty good handle on this stuff. They’re the ones who predicted on Tuesday that Google would file for cable licenses “very soon.” This prognostication comes from that same note:

DVR in the Cloud: “We would expect Google to store (and make available to consumers) the content across all or most TV channels it will provide, making available to users not just the live stream but also past content going back several days or weeks, if not longer. With the addition of good search and discovery and user interface capabilities, this would make DVRs obsolete.”

TV Where You Want It: “We would expect Google to offer access to something like ‘Cloud TV,’ described above, including the live TV stream, across multiple devices, such as computers, tablets and handsets.”

A Programming Guide That Doesn’t Suck: “It is not very hard to imagine a much better user interface than the one currently provided by the MSOs and satellite TV providers,” presumably along the lines of what they’ve been showing off with the revamped Google TV.

Again, the big caveat here is that none of this happens unless the cable programmers play along. And while none of the stuff described above seems truly mind-blowing, some of it — like live mobile streaming — will stil require programmers to give Google capabilities they haven’t given to heavyweights like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

And even though the cable programmers often tangle with the cable providers, they’re at least comfortable with them in general. Google, though, still scares the bejesus out of lots of traditional media companies, so I’m not sure how many of them will play along.

One pretty good bet: Google’s foray into cable TV won’t include anything from Viacom, since the cable giant is still suing Google in the YouTube copyright case. So no Snooki for Kansas City.

[Shutterstock/Dwight Smith]


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