THINKING ABOUT GOOGLE TV
At Google’s IO Conference this week, the search giant announced several new products and platforms, including the latest Android operating system, Froyo (named after “frozen yogurt”), and, perhaps most significantly for filmmakers, Google TV. At the heart of Google TV is a simple notion: right now we watch a lot of TV after it is broadcast on our computer simply because a) its creators have placed it there and b) it’s easy to find what we want to watch through internet search. But, if we could watch it on our TV screens? Wouldn’t we rather view it there? At his No Film School, Ryan Koo titles his report, “Google TV has been what independent filmmakers have been waiting for.” He writes:
Google just announced Google TV, a device/spec that obliterates the line between “TV” and “computer.” Suddenly it’s going to be a lot easier to get content from around the web onto your TV — because your TV has full access to the web. Sure, some TVs and devices support limited web functionality today, but with Google TV it will no longer be a matter of which widgets your set-top box or Blu-ray player supports, because Google TV is a full operating system (powered by Android) that can access any website (including Flash-based content) and run applications (from day one, you’ll be able to run Android apps like Pandora). While I think there will be problems with how the OS organizes this wealth of content, the fact is that Google TV is going to make it a lot easier to get independently-produced content onto the big (home) screen.
Koo goes on to make some interesting points. The first is that YouTube Rentals could become the go-to outlet for independent filmmakers as the service will offer the path of least resistance when it comes to ability to upload, distribute and then monetize one’s film. One problem that the YouTube rental program has had so far is that viewers aren’t conditioned to pay rental fees to view films on their desktop browser. Higher quality video on their flat-screens, however, will be a different story. (Read our interview with YouTube’s Sara Pollack here.) Second, SEO (search engine optimization) is going to be even more key for independents because discovery through internet search (as opposed to cable program guides, iTunes placement, etc.) will be how films are discovered on Google TV. Once programs are discovered, Google TV will allow viewers to create the equivalent of bookmarks, offering another opportunity for independent filmmakers and distributes to organize themselves around curated content.
Click over to Koo’s post and make sure not to miss the comments thread. There are a number of interesting comments and links, including one linking to a new Palo Alto start-up, Veetle, which allows makers to create protected, peer-to-peer high-quality video streaming channels. (With regards to this concept, I’m with Koo — I think the future of internet TV is asynchronous viewing, not replication of the broadcast model.)
The folks at Engadget have polled a dozen of their editors and writers for reactions, and if you’d like your enthusiasm tempered a bit, check out their thoughts. Much of their commentary concerns the technical, not conceptual, elements of Google TV — that, until TVs are built that incorporate the platform directly, Google TV will require another set-top box. From Joshua Topolsky:
The problem is that Google does have the right idea — they want to make finding video content as easy as finding web content using their tried and tested search engine — but they haven’t given us the hardware or technical solutions to match those results. Right now Google TV is a hodgepodge of ideas — some good, some really bad (hello IR blaster), and the trick is making all of these technologies talk to each other in a way that makes sense for the average consumer. That means one box, one connection, and zero problems. If they don’t shore up partnerships with major providers (yes, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, etc.) then I don’t see how they can pull this off. Google TV today is an orphan intermediary… but it needs to be the main event.
Or, more bluntly, from Nilay Patel:
It’s really simple: any product that requires IR blaster control of a cable box is doomed to fail. Sorry, Google, but if you want to take over the living room, you’ve got to go all the way and build a box with built-in tuners — otherwise you’ll end up showing off embarrassing demos of Google TV controlling a TiVo Premiere that offers almost exactly the same search, discovery, and streaming content options.
Much of the commentary about Google’s IO presentations so far have centered around the company’s direct swipes at Apple. When it comes to Google TV vs. Apple TV, I don’t think anyone thinks this is going to be a fair fight unless Apple seriously revamps what it calls the “hobby” of its product line. Viewed more broadly, however, Google TV represents another front in the battle between advertising revenue models, subscription models, and paid download/rental/purchase models (which include the “walled garden” of Apple’s iTunes store). Google TV can be an open platform existing on devices by multiple manufacturers because its goal is to increase the audience for its web advertising. So far, ad-based models haven’t been particularly remunerative for indies. Of course, Google TV also has the potential of increasing the audience for paid downloads/rentals/purchases as well. The question for us is whether the “free” ethos of Google will shape consumer behavior on its Google TV platform away from paid content or whether Google TV, through its integration of search and ability to deliver high-quality video from niche creators, will support the monetization efforts of indie filmmakers. (Or, alternately I suppose, whether it will increase the audience for free content so much that ad share models for indies become more viable.)
View the Google TV demo here: