Getting Under The Skin of Google TV

Given the frenzy around Eric Schmidt’s MacTaggart lecture, we thought you might want a second opinion on GoogleTV in the UK, from people who have a box installed in a media research facility (iBurbia Studios)  and who have reviewed and researched it with consumers and industry players alike.

The first thing to say is that this is a device that is mired in miscommunication and false perceptions. Many seasoned professionals are not clear what it actually does, hence the confusion about its potential competitive impact on the UK market.  The Telegraph told us yesterday that ‘the “Google TV” innovation will also mean that viewers can watch material from catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player on their main TV screen ….seemingly ignorant of the fact that there are already 10 Million homes in the UK doing exactly that through PS3, Connected TVs and Freeview boxes from companies such as Fetch and Humax. There is very little new and innovative in Google TV.

The first thing to state is that, unless you buy an integrated TV with GoogleTV built in (and we haven’t seen any of those announced) Google TV will be an ‘add-on’ to any set top box you use, not a replacement.  It has no TV tuner in it so can’t receive broadcast.  (For info:  when you get it out of the box, it asks you which STB you want to use with Google TV, and goes off to find the right EPG data. You then have to run the ‘out’ cable from your existing STB into the Google box, rather than directly into your TV.  Then there is another cable that comes out of Google TV into your  screen carrying the combined Google and STB data). Most consumers will have lost the will to live by this point).

So, Google TV isn’t a complete TV platform.  It is really just a half-hearted, internet ‘add-on’ for anyone using a basic set top box that doesn’t have internet connectivity, or who don’t have one of the existing peripherals (eg PS3) that offer some of the same features.  This is just not a competitive proposition in the UK. It is unlikely to worry the UK’s pay platforms, who are rolling out their own intelligent, connected services.   It leaves Google joining a very busy fight for ‘free’ consumers, who have a lot of more credible options.  Consumers with an existing ‘free’ box, who wake up to the idea of having internet stuff on their TV, and don’t already have one of the alternatives, will have a choice of adding GoogleTV to their existing one; buying one of the new DTT  boxes  that do a similar job (Humax, Fetch, YouView, 3View); or buying one of the latest generation of Connected TV such as a Samsung or Sony Smart TV.

The big ‘plus’ of Google TV is that it opens up your TV to any web site – rather than the limited list the other companies are allowing into their devices.  However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.  Beyond YouTube and the ‘player’ sites like iPlayer, 4OD and ITV Player, and a couple of movie sites (LoveFilm etc) there aren’t many sites that are designed to look good on the screen.  Most web sites that you go to will look crap.

Another big plus, albeit a bit geeky,  is its ability to integrate TV web players with Android apps on a smart device like a phone or tablet.   A good example is the ‘YouTube Remote’ app which lets you use a Galaxy Tab, or any other Android device, as a remote control for the big screen YouTube running through GoogleTV. A very cool integration but complicated to explain, complicated to set up and complicated to use. (It took three Decipher consultants a whole evening to get this working).

Decipher believe that, unless there is a miraculous re-design, it is likely that Google TV’s flaws will outweigh its benefits.  Its biggest flaw is its inability to integrate web sites with broadcast channels.  Broadcast and web are treated as fundamentally separate content types, with no links between them.  This flies in the face of all the development work being pioneered by YouView, Virgin Tivo, SkyAnytime+ and Freesat to integrate the two into a seamless content environment.  These ‘integrated’ platforms let you jump to VOD from the EPG, from within programmes, and let you search for VOD and broadcast programmes together, and then jump into them directly from the search results.  Google TV can’t do this and it shows that Google is only paying lip service to broadcast, not working with it. (Although at least they are not ignoring it completely like Apple TV).

There is clearly concern that Google will be able to generate a lock-down on TV advertising revenue and is important to clear this up.  Google will have NO impact on any ad revenue on broadcast channels (the major revenue stream by a long way on TV) – it has no technical or commercial mechanism for getting involved.  Also, Google will have NO impact on any ad revenue on the player sites consumers access through it (4OD, ITV Player, Demand 5 etc).  Once again, there is no technical or commercial way they can mediate between a broadcast web site and its viewers, even if they are accessing the player through Google.  Google won’t even be able to monitor viewing of broadcast or on-demand content on these sites (to create a new viewing metric to rival BARB).

This leaves the major commercial question being whether Google can leverage its power in search, in the TV world.  This is where the power of Google looks much weaker.    Any searches for product and services will most likely still be routed through laptops and smart devices, where consumers are able to follow through on complex transactions.  TV is a terrible medium for this kind of search.   Search on a TV can only really be used successfully to search for video content.  Given the dominance of broadcast channels and their related players in the consumption mix, the volume of commercially valuable content searches on a TV set will be tiny.  As with Hulu, if the UK broadcasters and platforms decide to lock Google out of the UK TV, they can.

So without a radical overhaul and the kind or breakthrough market redefinition that only Apple seem good at, Google TV feels like something that young, new media literate people will like for the quirkiness of it, but not something designed for mass roll out.

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