Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Google Fiber: Amazing Internet! Same Old TV.

The Kansas City fiber project that Google announced yesterday is going to give customers broadband like they’ve never seen before.

The pay-TV part, though, is going to seem very familiar: They’ll pay Google $120 a month, and they’ll get a bunch of TV channels, whether they want all of them or not.

Which isn’t to say it won’t be cool. The TV service should offer a bunch of nifty features that will make it easier to find and watch what you want.* And it comes with a free Nexus 7 tablet. And unlike the cable box you have now, it should get better with some frequency, via software updates. Etc.**

But if you were hoping that Google was going to use its fiber project to reorder the TV landscape, you’re going to be disappointed. At least in this incarnation, Google is playing by the TV establishment’s rules.

That is, if you want to get stuff from the cable guys, you have to buy everything they bundle. Discovery’s TLC comes with Animal Planet and the Science Channel. NBCUniversal’s CNBC comes with Bravo, Oxygen and the USA Network. Etc.

And the cable guys are happy to sell Google their shows, because they love having more buyers for their stuff, as long as they don’t break the bundle model they love so much.

Just like they were happy to sell TV to the satellite guys and telco guys. “We view them the way we view [Verizon’s] Fios,” says one programmer who’s working with Google.

Not everyone is in, yet. Time Warner (TNT, TBS, HBO), Disney (ESPN, Disney Channel), News Corp. (Fox News, FX) and AMC Networks (AMC, IFC) don’t have deals with Google. And if Google launches without all of them, the service will look crippled. But the Google folks are saying positive things about getting deals done, and I’ve heard similar murmurs from some of the TV guys.

One exception to the happy talk: News Corp., which owns this Web site, has butted heads with Google repeatedly. The two sides had a particularly unsuccessful discussion about Google TV at CES in January, which led to a Twitter outburst from Rupert Murdoch. So that deal could be extra-hard to nail down.

Then again, Viacom also has problems with Google — you may recall they are still suing them over YouTube. And Viacom has signed on for Google Fiber, too.***

Money solves all sorts of problems, especially when it comes with a promise not to screw up the ecosystem that makes the cable guys fat and happy. Right now, Google’s willing to offer both.

*A lot of these features, by the way, are similar to features Google has been showing off with its latest version of its Google TV software. But this being Google, the Google Fiber service is completely separate from Google TV — they’re handled by different teams, using different hardware, different software. So odd. So Googley.

**You can watch the Google guys pitch this themselves, by checking out yesterday’s demo video, starting at the 25-minute mark.

***Boy, did this dummy get that one wrong. Sorry!

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock/BortN66)

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik