Google TV: Snatching Failure From The Jaws Of Success?

When I first saw Google TV at the Google developer conference in May I was impressed. Google appeared to have created a powerful new combination of TV and web — and a new market for itself — built on the Android OS. But since that time the company has very publicly stumbled, getting blocked by the major networks and receiving very mixed reviews for the service itself. Now Google has apparently asked several TV OEM partners to delay launch of their versions of Google TV at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show “so that it can refine the software,” says the NY Times.

A representative example of Google TV’s generally mixed reviews is the NY Times’ writer David Pogue’s article: Google TV, Usability Not Included. Here at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan has also written extensively about his Google TV experiences. I have a Sony Google TV too, though one can access the service in multiple ways.

In my experience, setup was relatively easy but the UX is considerably more complex than it might be. The “game controller” remote is a metaphor for some of that complexity.

Sales figures for Google TV products haven’t been disclosed; however Sony said that they were “in line with expectations,” according to published reports. Sony also put a positive spin on Google TV’s future prospects, in the wake of Google TV’s CES pullout.

Google makes no money directly off the service; it’s very much like Android in that respect — and the strategy appears to be very similar: build usage with multiple OEMs and numerous devices.

By contrast, Apple said it has now sold a million units of the “new” $99 version of Apple TV. Roku is also reporting sales of a million units.

Google has very ambitious plans around “TV,” broadly, and the Google TV product is a cornerstone of that strategy. The company wants to deliver targeted search, display and video ads eventually through the service although it hasn’t commented publicly on that plan. Meanwhile, elsewhere in TV land “addressable ads” are ramping up from a number of cable and satellite TV providers. According to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal:

In the DirecTV setup, an advertiser would specify the kinds of homes it is interested in. DirecTV will tap third-party data providers to find households in its subscriber base that fit that profile. That data could include information such as income and gender to whether a household recently purchased an advertiser’s products or had a baby . . . The data will be loaded onto the household’s DirecTV box and when it is time to run the ads, the box “votes” for the most appropriate commercial for that household from a spectrum of ads preloaded onto the box’s digital video recorder.

Apart from the Google TV software Google is reportedly preparing to challenge Neflix and Hulu with an expanded video streaming service next year. Such a service won’t depend on the success of Google TV itself; the company will likely mimic the multi-platform approach of Netflix and Hulu. And to that end Google recently bought Widevine, which provides video optimization and digital rights management across platforms.

But while Google TV doesn’t need to succeed for Google’s video and TV Ads strategies to succeed it would make life easier.

Right now people will pay a premium for Google TV devices. Google and its partners have not effectively made the case for those premiums or the service as a whole (especially given the mixed reviews). The noise is also getting louder amid a growing array of consumer on-demand/web TV choices: Apple TV and Roku, as mentioned, as well as Wii, Xbox, Yahoo, Boxee and several others.

It’s also not clear that there’s demand for the “full internet” on TV when most people already have multiple sources of internet access: PCs, smartphones and, increasingly, tablets (iPads).

Before Google TV can hope to succeed two things need to happen. There need to be price reductions on the hardware and the software and UX need to be simplified considerably. It’s still early and Google has time to “get it right” but public missteps have cost Google time and credibility in the segment.

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Related Topics: Channel: Video | Features: Analysis | Google: TV

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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