Google tv redefining TV? Not quite…

I totally missed Google TV and Google IO while I was in Hospital. It was one of the first things I asked for when I woke up, sad but true.

So my manager gave me a cut out about the Google IO event, which seemed to focus on Google TV and the next Android (still exploring). So generally if I was boxee I would be alarmed but not too concerned. They could really take advantage of the standards google’s using to power the remote for example. But lets not forget Google have a massive influence and moving into there area has to be worrysome. Now lets get this all in perspective.

This isn’t about Apple vs Google, its about the open internet vs the closed world of the TV. TV has been tightly controlled for years by the TV producers, etc. Now that wall is falling down.

Other people have written about the hardware and software so I won’t do that, instead I’ll look at the concept.

For a while now the BBC and its content producer partners have been working on spec for the next generation of Television viewing aka Project Canvas. When I first saw this I was surprised because it really lacked the internet and openness. I walked away thinking this is what a broadcast company would put out thinking about the notion of convergence of the web and tv. However this really did my head in because all the clever internet ideas of what Canvas could have been have been picked up Google and the google TV. Which is a shame for the BBC.

However, the weird thing is that although Canvas is what a broadcast company would do. GoogleTV is what a internet company would do if they wanted to converge the TV with the internet. However just thinking about the UK market for now, freeview has a major following and I can’t really see Google TV make much of a dent in that right now. I might be wrong but Google TV is very much a American thing and google haven’t really thought about the other markets as of yet.

So back to Google TV, there partners include Intel, logitech, Sony, bestbuy, dish network, Adobe, plus others. Note none of these are actually Content creaters/producers except of course Sony. The Sony side there talking to seem to be the engineering side rather than the content producing side. There was no deals or even talk about the content side of Sony. There will be a massive push in the states from Best Buy but details about the rest of the world is almost non exist.

Generally GoogleTV is once again interesting (and comes up open trumps here) because it can browse any website instead of the Canvas/XBMC/AppleTV model which is apps or scripts which allow you to access certain sites. There is a real opportunity to make TV aware sites like Youtube TV which was also announced at Google IO 2010. I’m actually very surprised no one has yet wrote a XBMC or Boxee script to take advantage of the new Youtube TV format. Generally this means your site can be viewed by millions and millions of people on there TV while they watch something else. But I wonder with no content producers on board will the likes of Hulu block GoogleTV or provide a crippled experience? In a ideal world I guess Google would suggest that everyone should use YouTube to deliver there content to the world, like channel 4 now do. And thats the killer thing, for everyone who uses youtube and other video sharing sites to distribute there media. Google are tackling the TV problem from both directions. Hardware, software and altering the code of the web.

Its opens the door to all the user generated media out there. TV producers must be somewhat rocking in there seats with a little bit of fear. Google have opened the door to the open web and have the might to keep it open. The problem is the price.

No one knows the price yet but the hardware is going to cost at least £50 or $50 which means its not going to get the penetration it requires. Its mainly going to be a glorified Tivo unless they can get the price down. Those who can afford the box have already got something like a Apple TV, XBMC or Boxee running. It won’t take much for them to adopt the open standards and emulate exactly what a google tv box does.

Theres also a problem when it comes to the social aspect of (or identity of the people watching) TV. Google TV already picks up the bluetooth of the phones of the people watching the TV (in the same room) but is that what you really want? Interestingly in the Google TV primer theres some hints of the problem.

Here are a few tips for those who haven’t designed for TV before. In a television environment, you must:

  • Understand that content is king.
  • Get users to the content as quickly and easily as possible.
  • Don’t interrupt when users are watching TV. Instead, make the viewing experience better.
  • Respect the living room context.
  • Think about what users will and won’t want to do when viewing TV with their family and friends.
  • Remember that TV is social.
  • Consider how groups might use your website or application.

Offer ways for individuals to use your site or apps in social settings.

  • Learn the pros and cons of TV screens and audio.
  • TV screens are wider and colors look different.
  • Text must be readable from a distance.
  • Sound is now a viable interface element.
  • Make it easy.
  • Offer simple choices and make actions obvious and easy to select.
  • Provide navigation that is simple enough for a remote control.

Thats only the start of the problem. Its great what Google has done but I can’t imagine what developed applications made for a phone will be like on a TV. Its goes back a little bit to what I said about the Apple TV.

The Living room is a funny place filled with different people and different exceptions. Google really needs to reach out to the content creation community and listen to what they say. Right now Google TV looks like something a Internet company who don’t fully get the dynamics of the TV/living room would build. Fantastic they have taken the standards route and pushed openness as far as it can go into the living room but now its time to consider the content and the experience. Or at least get some partners who do understand the content and experience. If they don’t I can see the Hulu problem growing and it may cause even more paywalls like the current newspaper situation.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.