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Ever since the New York Times unveiled that Google TV will likely become a reality, the concept of convergent media has suddenly become a mass meme rather than a tech meme… and probably done more good for IPTV and the blossoming worlds of Social TV, tCommerce, TV Widgets, TV recommendation engines, TV Everywhere, TV 2.0, and opt-in TV advertising than any single event in this emerging landscape.
The TV deal between Google, Sony, Logitech and Intel (and now apparently Samsung) which flooded the media zeitgeist was a perfect riposte to the other news that Facebook topped Google for the week ending March 13th with 7.07 per cent of all Internet traffic for that week, while Google.com got 7.03 per cent.
Intel says, what they are calling, the Smart TV revolution, is the 'biggest since move to colour'. The new chip which they have developed for the next generation Connected TV market is an Atom processor CE4100, which will power both TV's and STB's. The chips are set to power a Linux-based OS and support Flash. Google TV, according to a recent report published by Bloomberg, will be running a custom Intel Atom processor codenamed "Dragonpoint". Or perhaps "Drag 'n' Point".
I do think Connected TV projects like Samsung's Internet@TV and Philips' NETV are already opening the gates.
Sony looks set to rollout new Intel ‘chipped’ Google-powered TV sets, while Google will also allegedly make available set-top-boxes (STB)’s – and both will be powered by tiny keyboards built by Logitech. Makes perfect sense.
But will it get the traction it needs? Will the huge success of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and hundreds of other niche social media be enough to push the concept of 'Social viewing' over to TV? I do think we need to also consider the changing behaviour of the web over the past five years due to social media. The web has become much more social... Facebook with 400 million users, 70 million people playing one social game on Facebook called Farmville, there is commenting and rating on Youtube video - the idea of being social on the big screen is not a huge leap from the PC.
Two important things have to be measured in the single screen experience where widgets or apps are integrated into one screen. Interactive design and usability and relevance. What do people really want to get 'social' about on their TV and how much will it interfere with their viewing. It's my feeling that the shift in Internet behaviour will help people make the shift to a more 'social' tv experience with interactive features such as recommendation engines and widgets/apps. Particularly when Google enters the space.
Doug Garnett, Founder & CEO at Atomic Direct, and I had a discussion recently and he pointed out some critical points.
The convergence is moving. I'm just not sure that people really want the internet on their TV. What they want are useful things on their TV.
... In part, it seems to me we ought to toss out the name "interactive" TV. The idea that there will be some degree of merging between the internet and the screen on the wall is quite legitimate.
To my mind, the core question has to surround fundamentally human needs. What parts of the web (a) legitimately offer complementary value to the process of watching television programs (not necessarily the programs themselves) and (b) are something we really want to browse in front of an audience.
WebTV's challenge is that most internet activity is inherently private - not for broadcast to an audience. And the TV is audience oriented. The write up in the NYT on the Google TV theory seems suspiciously like WebTV. From their experience, it appears there's a limited audience for whom browsing on the TV set is valuable.
Samsung and Philips are closer to value (from the little bits I know). But, knowing how Philips has struggled to make these endeavors work in the past, I'm not optimistic for Philips.
But back to the key: What value do they bring to the viewer? Past ITV efforts have generally (from what I've seen) foisted the ability to interact on consumers rather than supply a highly valuable service to a consumer.
They need to take lessons from Apple. The iPad et. al. are clearly designed based on knowing what & how people live and where the technology fits as an assistant in their lives. Where's that sweet spot when we integrate TV & the web?
What will the widgets and apps do? Well, I think Wikipedia would be a great addition to TV. I can count the times on more than two hands that I have whisked over to the desktop or pulled out the laptop to get some obscure information about an actor or a movie or a sport. What about voting for talents? Or sharing those glorious sports moments with your friends - even if they are not there?
What about a quick check of the weather with a popout widget?
The two screen experience, with an iPad, mobile, laptop or PC is another ballgame.
But what punter would not want an affordable Google Set Top Box (STB) with new cool Logitech remote that does stuff, so he can search his TV and do other cool things? Or just buy a new Sony LCD wall screen that does the same thing – sans the STB?
Interesting to see how it all plays against the Yahoo Connected TV – which already has its feet firmly entrenched in the space and has some cross over with their partners, including Sony and Intel. Most people still don’t even know about Yahoo TV, nor ever heard about. Including most developers I meet at the many events I attend each year in Europe. You can bet, with all the coverage last week, they know about the Google TV foray.
Probably the most exciting news for me is the fact that the New TV platform will be based on Android, and will remain Open Source. That means all code will be transparent, available and open to change and suggestions and managed by a core team… unlike the iPhone, Facebook and Yahoo Connected TV developer communities which offer a slice of code to allow developers to develop applications via Application Programming Interface (API)’s or Software Development Kit (SDK)’s. Bear in mind, any external or 3rd party development has to meet stringent standards for the TV market.
And the major global TV networks and media centers of power? Look for their already crumbling influence to be even more diminished. TV, which has been the mainstream media’s core tool to for swaying us to one or another of their movies, music stars, books, politicians, brands and whatever they get paid to make us like, will be in decline. And, to perhaps the chagrin of a few parties, the TV will continue to democratize and will follow the web with many to many rather than one to many. Publically owned broadcasters listed on the NYSE are in, what seems to be, a never-ending spiral of contraction, which is disastrous for shareholders.
Google is obviously more known for its search technology than their weaker portfolio of social media products (Wave, Orkut, and more recently Buzz in Gmail), and undoubtedly, most consumers that are now mulling over the idea of Google on their TV are enticed by the idea that perhaps it will become much easier to wade through the ever-increasing number of channels available … perhaps Google will offer a search engine like they do online? Or maybe even a better organizational structure – a directory of sorts?
Searchable TV is why Google is currently testing its technology with Dish Networks… and probably why they will be the future of the Electronic Program Guide (EPG).
Some analysts are skeptical about Google’s latest plan to expand; noting their previous attempts to enter the TV, radio, and print advertising markets were all dismal failures.
However, I disagree. And here’s why.
Try out another scenario… one which no one else could do in this space. No one.
Google is currently allowing advertisers to use their innovative and very fresh Google TV advertising platform to launch TV ad spots in US cable markets. And Google has taken part in investing €20 million in startup Invidi Technologies, specializing in software development in the area of TV advertising.
Google TV Ads is an online marketplace that makes it easy for anyone to buy and measure national cable television advertising. Using the familiar Adwords interface, you can launch a television campaign in minutes
This means, in Google’s new ubiquitous, massive TV realm, I could simply buy time slots or even permanent space on for programs or channels in the future of Google TV.
Why two? Time slots for more linear TV experiences such as a classic 30 second spot, using an ‘old school’ non- elective, interruptive, advertising model.
I could buy elective (opt in and opt out) landscape around particular program for TV Widgets for shows or even entire channels. It might be a custom widget built in Android or could even be some kind of Chrome extension. It could be Contextual Advertising based on the show’s content, it could be Behavioral Targeting based on the viewer’s preferences and habits, it could be Location Based Advertising (LBA), based on the viewer’s lat and long via IP, or it could be Experience Marketing (full fledged TV experiences).
Yes, the broadcasting world is going to have to loosen their grip and open up. Starting with the software. Once Google enters the fray with Android, it's going to really open up.
Apple with their iPhone development community and Facebook with their application development community have driven innovation far further than any company could ever do trying to lock down their code, shackle their intellectual property and try to hire a roomful of staff to keep up. Firefox vs. IE is another great example. Yahoo Connected TV and Boxee get it. But a number of TV broadcast executives are going to have a lot of sleepless nights over the next five years getting used to the idea of opening up.
I think this is what Google has in mind. And I for one… think it’s going to work.
Note - added later.