Google TV Brings Universal Search to Your TV
This year’s keynote presentations at Google I/O, the search giant’s annual developer conference, feature quite a few exciting announcements: from WebM to the Chrome Web Store to Android Froyo. However, Google saved their biggest announcement for the last part of the last keynote: Google TV.
Google’s stated mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Like it or not, a lot of the world’s information still goes through traditional television. Google TV thus hopes to organize that information, by putting traditional television under the dominant information management paradigm of the Web: search. Clunky TV schedule guides could soon become a thing of the past, even for the laziest couch potatoes.
A Parallel Paradigm Shift
Old-time netizens will recall when people browsed the Web through hierarchical directories. Yahoo, once everyone’s starting point for the Web, started out as such a directory. Think about how much the Web flattened when Google shifted the primary paradigm of the Web to search. All of a sudden, people were checking out content based on their own intentions, not based on third-party curation. All of a sudden, people were actively seeking out content, not passively going wherever third-party directories led them.
If Google TV takes off, and couch potatoes start searching for content instead of surfing channels, those same transformations could soon hit the world of traditional television. The physical barriers to putting content on TV will still keep Long Tail videos off the air, of course; TV content will never be as diverse as Web content. Nevertheless, loyalty to channels will start to matter less, and loyalty to content will start to matter more.
Contributing to that shift, Google TV’s search box will return results from both TV and the Web. Not only will it cease to matter what channels a particular series is on, it won’t even matter whether the series is on television or the Internet. Web and TV content will sit side by side on people’s HDTVs, without people needing to switch interfaces, paradigms, or HDMI inputs.
Search isn’t the only good thing from the Web that Google TV will bring to your living room. Thanks to Google Translate, Google TV can take a caption feed and translate it into any language.
Developers and Publishers as TV Stars
As a bonus, Google TV is based on Android, Google’s mobile operating system. That means it will run any Android app that doesn’t require phone hardware. Whereas putting the iPhone OS on the iPad was a functional step down for tablets, putting Android on a TV is a functional step up for TVs.
Needless to say, Google TV provides an opportunity for industrious Web publishers and Android developers to reach lazy couch potatoes. Google even provides tips for leveraging that opportunity. Google-owned video-sharing site YouTube is already getting a headstart with YouTube Leanback, a version of YouTube designed for instant, personalized HDTV play with a remote control in the living room.
Strengths, Opportunities, and Revolutions
How can Google TV succeed where Apple TV failed? Simple: it will be free, open-source software. Apple TV is an expensive, proprietary hardware-and-software bundle. The home entertainment market features a myriad of devices. Free, open-source software can spread across many devices. Expensive, proprietary hardware-and-software bundles obviously cannot. Just look at how Android phones beat iPhones.
How does all this benefit Google and its shareholders, you ask? Most of Google’s revenue today comes from search and contextual advertising, fine-tuned with behavioral data. Google TV would bring both search and context to traditional television, with behavioral data to boot. That would shift the $74 billion annual TV advertising market in favor of Google’s strengths. They’re getting into the game by tilting the playing field.
Furthermore, Google makes most of its money on the Web right now. Even before Google executes any sort of TV search advertising play, Google TV would already get a few couch potatoes stumbling upon Web content in their searches — probably YouTube content, even. Anything that gets people using the Web is generally good for Google.
The first Google TV devices come out in the fall of 2010: an HDTV from Sony, and a set-top box from Logitech. Google TV itself will be open-sourced in the summer of 2011. Let’s see if people enjoy easily searching for content from millions of mixed TV and Web channels in a unified interface. Let’s see if universal search can revolutionize television as much as it has revolutionized the Web.
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