Why Google TV faces an uphill struggle

8th Sep 2010 | 10:33

Why Google TV faces an uphill struggle

The idiot box is immune to the tech titans

One of my favourite TV programmes was Casualty. I didn't like it for the acting, though. I liked it because of the hilariously protracted accidents in each episode. "I'll just hammer this nail in with an UNEXPLODED BOMB!" this week's trolley fodder would announce, with the inevitable explosion following shortly afterwards.

"I think I'll leave this really sharp kitchen knife sticking out of the steering wheel as I drink and drive!" another would say. "I think I'll attempt to combine the worlds of TV and computers!" a third would offer.

Oops. That last one wasn't Casualty. That was Google.

Google wants to bring its super search'n'ads systems to the humble television, transforming the way we consume content from the couch.

We've seen this programme before, and we know how it ends.

For cutting-edge technology firms, television is the electronic Afghanistan: all the major powers have attempted to tame it, and all the major powers have ended up in protracted, painful and ultimately pointless conflicts.

Microsoft tried it with Media Center, and latterly with Xbox 360. Apple tried it with Apple TV and the new! Improved! Apple TV. And now Google's going to have a go.

To its credit, Google is attempting to throw absolutely everything at Google TV. It will let you see statistics as you're watching sports. It'll have a web browser. It'll give you YouTube. It'll be controllable from Android handsets and iPhones and it'll have voice search and Twitter and Flickr and Android Market and a customisable home page and a free horse.

It'll be rubbish.

There are several reasons for that. For end users, the problem is that Google's adding complexity, not taking it away. TV's pretty simple: turn it on, press up to change channels up, and down to go down.

DVR stuff like pausing and resuming live TV's pretty simple, too, and even Sky's horrible HD interface is fairly easy to navigate. Adding the entire internet into the mix - something that apparently requires a QWERTY keyboard in your remote - takes that simplicity away. It's yet another box, yet another remote, yet another thing for your partner to get annoyed about when he or she can't get the TV to work properly.

The second issue is that Google may not get the content. Apple's TV rentals only come from two US broadcasters - Fox and ABC - because broadcasters worry that Apple could become as powerful in TV as it currently is in music.

It seems that Google is finding a similar lack of enthusiasm: the Wall Street Journal reports that TV networks "remain reluctant to partner with a service they believe encroaches on their turf." The WSJ suggests that some networks are investigating ways to block Google TV, not to support it.

It's the same over here. First of all, there's the BBC: do you think licence payers want ads around their iPlayer? Rupert Murdoch just stuck his newspapers behind a paywall and charges £35 per month for his Sky Sports iPad app. Reckon he'll want Google sticking its ads on Sky?

The BBC, BT, Channel 4, Channel 5, ITV and others are working on Project Canvas, a single standard for UK internet-delivered TV. Reckon they'd rather Google built the platform and made the money?

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. If this were an episode of Casualty, Google would be planning to chainsaw a tree from a pogo stick.

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