Google TV reboots, but is anyone watching?

By Rex Crum, MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — It’s no secret that Google Inc. likes to have fun with its “Google doodle,” recasting its home-page logo to recognize birthdays of historical figures, holidays and other occasions.

So perhaps it was no surprise that on Monday, for Halloween, Google

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 posted a time-lapse video of people on the Google campus carving six giant pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns that, when lit up at night, spell out the word “Google.”
See more Google doodles.

But if Google really wanted to make a notable doodle, the company could have added two more pumpkins and spelled out “Google TV” — since the search giant used Halloween to roll out a new update to its TV service that has yet to catch on with consumers since it was released more than a year ago.

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If you have drawn a blank on Google TV, you’re not alone. “I don’t think the average person cares [about Google TV] or should care,” said Michael Pachter, an Internet and media industry analyst with Wedbush Securities. “My guess is that fewer than 10% of consumers could explain what Google TV is.”

Let’s start at the beginning: Just what is Google TV?

Simply put, it’s is an Internet-based platform that uses the Android operating system to provide TV viewers with a user interface allows them to watch TV offerings and services, such as Netflix Inc.

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 and HBO Go from Time Warner Inc.

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The service is built into certain TVs from Sony Corp.

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, or you can get it by spending $100 on a set-top box from either Sony Corp.

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 or Logitech International SA

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So one of the biggest problems with Google TV, according to Pachter, is that you really have to seek it out.

“Until Google TV appears as a native application on the living-room television, it’s not going to be relevant to most people,” he said. “Netflix won the living room by being native on Blu-ray players and game consoles, and when Google TV does the same, people will begin to care.”

Google hasn’t released figures on Google TV’s market penetration, and with competition from set-top box makers, such as Roku, to the cable companies and satellite providers with on-demand content of their own, the feeling in the marketplace is that Google TV hasn’t been compelling enough for someone to buy one of the few televisions that offer it or hook up yet another set-top box.

The new version of Google TV, which started rolling out on Monday, is supposed to be more intuitive and easier to use, and also may benefit from Google’s (eventual) plans to launch about 100 new video channels on YouTube. Those channels are to be fed by original content from media outlets and celebrities, such as Madonna and Jay-Z.

Van Baker, a consumer-technologies retail analyst with Gartner Inc., said Google might be headed in the right direction. “They now realize that it takes more than search to make Google TV successful, and they have begun to facilitate curation of content such as the channel that features live concerts for music lovers,” he added.

However, even Baker says that despite Google’s dominance elsewhere, there’s no guarantee Google TV will take off. “It’s not enough to change its impact in the market significantly. For Google TV to succeed to any degree, they need to make a relationship work with the networks. It’s about the business models and the stakeholders.”

Maybe then Google TV will be something more than the set-top equivalent of an online doodle.


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Rex Crum is a reporter for MarketWatch in San Francisco.

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