Google rolling out new version of Google TV
Google has not given up on its quest to bring the Web to television screens.
The Internet search giant launched Google TV last year with much fanfare. But it was met with resistance from the major networks that worried it would cannibalize their businesses and that Google was not doing enough to block pirated content. Consumers complained Google TV was too complicated and expensive.
Rishi Chandra, director of product management for Google TV, says the new version has improved search to make movies and TV shows easier to find. It also has a new app called "TV & Movies" to browse 80,000 offerings on cable or satellite, Netflix, Amazon, YouTube and other sites and make personal recommendations. Google has redesigned the YouTube app to make it feel more like TV. And Google has opened up the Android market for developers to build TV apps with Android to make Google TV more alluring for consumers. (But you still can't rent movies for Google TV from the Android market).
The idea is to give Google TV viewers access to millions of channels the way cable gave consumers access to hundreds, Chandra said. And Google wants to make those channels look exactly like TV, not like the Web on TV.
The new version of Google TV will roll out to people who have Sony televisions on Sunday and to people who have Logitech devices soon, Google said. Google will roll out new devices from Samsung and Vizio in 2012.
Analysts say the new version of Google TV is a step in the right direction, but won't win over consumers yet.
IDC analyst Danielle Levitas called it "incrementally better."
Said Gartner Research analyst Van Baker: "Is this going to cause everyone to race out and buy Google TV? I don't think so."
Google has big media ambitions. It hired Robert Kyncl as an ambassador to the studios. It tried to buy online video site Hulu, which is owned by News Corp., Walt Disney Co., Comcast Corp. and private-equity firm Providence Equity Partners.
And it's aiming to become the cable provider of the future with dozens of free online channels on YouTube. YouTube is expected to announce next week that it has signed up media companies and personalities to produce original professional content for the popular video-sharing site. Google is investing more than $100 million in cash advances to push a new concept for YouTube, which encourages users to subscribe to the channels with hours of content.
It's all part of an effort to get major advertisers to entrust their brands to YouTube. And Google is priming the advertising pump for the day when more people watch online video on their television screens.
Analysts say that day may still be a long ways off. And it's unclear which of the many technology players looking to crack the market will deliver on the promise of Internet television: the ability to watch any movie or show at any time streamed over the Web.
Microsoft has made its way into the living room with the success of its Xbox consoles. Apple TV was supposed to be a hobby, but reports have suggested it is anything but. And before he died, Steve Jobs told his biographer that he had "cracked" TV.
"The reality is that Google does not know all the answers. There are a lot of different players doing different things and they are all exciting," Chandra said. "They all validate the future we see of the Internet as a much bigger part of the TV experience."
Google insists it does not want to replace broadcast or cable TV, just give consumers a broader selection of content. Google TV is not being pitched as a product that will allow you to cut the cable cord. It's a product that Google says you can use along with cable.
Analysts say Google's larger goal is to boost its advertising business and increase viewership of YouTube.
But Google still has not won over ABC, CBS or NBC, which continue to block TV programming on their websites from being viewed on Google TV, Chandra conceded. Google does have partnerships with Time Warner Inc.'s HBO, Turner Broadcasting and others.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint," Chandra said.
And that's a point on which everyone agrees.
"Google flat out did not understand the media business and did not get the right partnerships in place," Baker said. "Google is a technology company, not a media company. They are going to have to learn to walk before they can run."
-- Jessica Guynn
Images, from top: Home screen on the first version of Google TV; home screen on the new version of Google TV. Credit: Google