Google Launches Google TV
--Partners Include Sony, Logitech, DISH, Intel, Adobe, Best Buy, Jinni, Rovi
As expected (see the article published on itvt.com, May 5th), Google unveiled a connected TV platform at its I/O developer conference in San Francisco last week. Dubbed simply "Google TV" and billed as "an open platform that adds the power of the Web to the television viewing experience," the new platform will, Google says, allow consumers to "search and watch an expanded universe of content available from a variety of sources including TV providers, the Web, their personal content libraries, and mobile applications." Google's unveiling of the new platform (in a presentation that was plagued by an unfortunate series of technical problems) saw the company joined on stage by Intel, Sony, Logitech, Best Buy, DISH Network and Adobe.
Google TV is based on the Android platform (thus allowing it to run apps from the Android Marketplace, and thus enabling, among other things, voice-activated search and navigation via Android smartphones, as well as the ability for viewers to play video from their smartphone on the TV) and runs the Google Chrome Web browser (thus allowing it to access the full Web--much like the pioneering WebTV set-top box--and thereby putting it at variance with the conventional wisdom that consumers are not interested in a full Web browsing experience on their living room TV set and instead prefer a simplified, TV-optimized version of the Web). In addition to allowing users to view "their usual TV channels," Google says, it will enable them to access "a world of Internet and cloud-based information and applications, including rich Adobe Flash-based content." The company bills the platform as "expand[ing] video choice from the hundreds of channels available today through a pay-TV provider to the vast storehouse of video content available through the Web and streaming videos," including video content from Netflix, Amazon VOD, and YouTube. (Note: While Google's demo of Google TV also featured content from Hulu, the latter service has a history of preventing delivery of its content to connected TV platforms. According to Mashable's Ben Parr, Google's VP of engineering, Vic Gundotra, told him that "the final decision of whether to allow content to run on a platform like Google TV resides with the content provider." Google-owned YouTube, meanwhile, has developed a special version of its service for Google TV, called YouTube Leanback, that will create personalized feeds based on an individual viewer's interests and that appears to highlight YouTube's rental content--ReelSEO's Jeremy Scott has more.)
In order to enable viewers to navigate the broad array of content that will be available through the new platform, Google says, Google TV will incorporate an "integrated search experience to help viewers easily find relevant content across over-the-air and pay-TV channel listings, DVR and the Internet, as well as a picture-in-picture layout to access multiple windows simultaneously." (Note: In a posting on its corporate blog, Google describes Google TV's search functionality--which, not surprisingly, in that search is after all Google's core competency, is central to the Google TV experience--thus: "Already know the channel or program you want to watch? Just type in the name and you're there. Want to check out that funny YouTube video on your 48" flat screen? It's just a quick search away. If you know what you want to watch, but you're not sure where to find it, just type in what you're looking for and Google TV will help you find it on the Web or on one of your many TV channels." For more on Google TV's search functionality, see below.) The company also touts the platform's "innovative home screen," which it says will enable viewers to quickly organize their favorite content and personalize their viewing experience. (Note: Google cautions that "some of these features [enumerated in this paragraph] are only available with advanced integration from DISH Network"--for more on the Google-DISH integration partnership and the converged viewing experience it is billed as enabling, see below.)
Sony, Logitech, Intel, DISH Network, Best Buy and Adobe joined Google on stage for the Google TV announcement because:
- Sony will be the first TV manufacturer to offer a TV set based on Google TV. According to the company, the first "Sony Internet TV" products (as its Google TV-powered devices will be called) will be launched in the US this fall, and will include a set-top box with a Blu-ray Disc drive, as well as a standalone TV model. In addition, Sony and Google say that they are exploring extending their partnership "in connection with Sony's wide range of entertainment assets to establish new forms of cloud-based user experiences." Google TV is eventually expected to replace Sony's existing Bravia connected TV platform.
- Logitech will develop a "companion box" that is designed to bring Google TV to existing HDTV home entertainment systems. According to the company, the device will integrate easily with any brand of HDTV or set-top box, will incorporate its Harmony remote control technology, and will include a controller that combines keyboard and remote control capabilities. The company says it also plans to launch an HD camera and video chat for Google TV, as well as "additional choices for navigation and control," including an app that will transform a smartphone into an advanced controller. In a blog posting that provides some useful instant analysis of the Google TV announcement, TDG analyst, Colin Dixon, explains that Logitech's Google TV set-top box "is unlike regular units in that it does not take up one of the inputs to the TV. Instead," he continues, "the device sits between a pay-TV STB or Blu-ray player and the TV. The consumer connects the STB's HDMI cable to the Logitech box, and the Logitech box to the HDMI port of the TV. Of course, the STB connects to broadband through either Ethernet or wireless. The beauty of this approach is that a viewer does not need to change the TV input in order to enjoy the Google TV experience. Using the remote, they can bring it up right over the top of whatever they may be watching on TV."
- Intel's Atom CE4100 processor will power both Sony's and Logitech's Google TV devices.
- DISH Network, which has an existing relationship with Google (it is currently by far the largest pay-TV operator to use Google's Google TV Ads service), is integrating Google TV with its pay-TV offering, and, according to Google, has been a "key partner...on advanced integration development for Google TV." The companies say they began a joint trial over a year ago with over 400 DISH Network and Google beta users, and that, based on the continuous feedback from that trial, they have built "the optimized Google TV experience that seamlessly integrates traditional TV, DVR and Web content." According to DISH Network--which plans to begin offering Google TV this fall (it says that it will integrate software to enable its service's integration with Google TV on all its HD DVR receivers, and that its customers will then be able to connect their Google TV devices to those receivers via HDMI)--its Google TV-enabled customers will be able to overlay online content related to TV shows, movies, actors and more; and will also be able to hyperlink Web content back to multichannel TV. In a prepared statement, DISH Network chairman, president and CEO, Charlie Ergen, stated that, thanks to the integration partnership, "only DISH Network Google TV customers will be able to enjoy a unified search across TV, DVR and Web, easily find related content, and manage their entire TV viewing experience." He added that "the advanced integration will allow developers to create new and exciting applications to enrich the TV viewing experience." In his blog posting on Google TV, TDG's Dixon explained the significance of the DISH Network-Google TV integration thus: "By talking to the DISH receiver, Google TV knows what channel and show is currently tuned. The whole power of the Web can now be applied to the TV experience. For example, if the viewer is watching a show from the DVR that is seven days old, new ads can be inserted over the recorded ads (dynamically updating ads in previously recorded shows). Also, a TV channel can provide an Android app that lets viewer's access special bonus material only when the show is broadcast." (Note: In its I/O presentation, Google showed an app for the children's show, "Sesame Street," that allows viewers to create custom playlists of clips.) According to Google TV's Vincent Dureau, one significant benefit of Google TV's convergence of TV and the Web is that "every ad on TV has the potential to become interactive"; and according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, another major benefit is that it will facilitate targeting of TV advertising. Advertising Age and GigaOm have more.
- Best Buy plans to sell Google TV devices nationwide later this year.
- Adobe's Flash Player 10.1 will be integrated directly into the Google Chrome browser on Google TV, enabling viewers to access Flash-powered content such as games, animations, applications, videos and audio.
In order to encourage development of Web-based interactive TV applications for Google TV, Google plans to release a set of TV-specific API's for Web applications. Later this year, it says, it will release an updated Android SDK that will support applications built for Google TV. The company says it also plans to open source the Google TV platform, in order to "spur innovation in the industry and so that other developers can benefit from the project." And it has published a series of guidelines explaining how developers can optimize Web sites for Google TV.
In a posting on its corporate blog, Google revealed that it has formed strategic alliances for Google TV with EPG company, Rovi, and with Jinni, an Israeli company that has developed a semantic search-and-recommendation engine which it bills as being based on "content genetics and user psychographics." In a posting on its corporate blog, Jinni provided a little information about (and some screenshots of) the search app it is developing for Google: "Google TV is designed to allow users to easily enjoy both Web and TV content on their TV sets," Jinni wrote. "Jinni's app provides a guide for Google TV, including semantic search and personalized features like individual and social recommendations, across all premium content available to the Google TV user for viewing (including live channels, VOD, and internet services like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu)." A representative from Rovi, meanwhile, told [itvt] that the company is bringing its TotalGuide EPG to the Google TV platform via Android (note: for more on TotalGuide, see the article published on itvt.com, January 11th), and is "in discussions with other manufacturers about their implementations for Google TV."
How Google TV--if it proves successful--will impact other companies in the OTT space is, of course, unclear. A number of those companies have issued public statements on the announcement, which have been rounded up by Richard Lawler of the blog, Engadget, here.