Friday, March 19, 2010

And now, the Google-box

There are many euphemisms for the humble TV set...

The idiot-box, the telly, the child-minder and even the goggle-box. Well now you can add one more: the Google-box.

However, the Google-box is more than just another name, it is perhaps clear sign that a consortium of the world's largest corporations are about to become a key part of our every-day lives.

Between them, Google, Sony and Intel are said to be working on a new convergence of TV and internet that will effectively bring a wider range and depth of content to everyone's living rooms.

Hang on, don't we already have convergence devices?

What about Tivo? These boxes have recently gone on sale in New Zealand and now the advertising is promoting the Tivo's ability to download movies, TV series and other content that is otherwise unavailable on broadcast television. Isn't that the same thing?

Well no.

What about the Apple TV? How does this differ from the Google-box that these three giants are cooking up?

Well apparently, the Google-led consortium is planning to take a step beyond the currently available "set-top box" configurations and deliver a ubiquitous platform that has web-browsing capabilities, along with a wealth of well-organised and packaged content which behaves just like a collection of regular TV channel, albeit with an "on-demand" component as well.

With the help of Intel and Sony, Google plans to make the Google-box an integral part of your TV set, much as we now find FreeView HD tuners becoming standard-equipment here in New Zealand.

With decent broadband connectivity (can you say "National Broadband Network"), the average TV viewer's horizons maybe significantly broadened beyond what's available on free-to-air transmissions.

Given Google's ability to spin a profit from advertising, many observers also speculate that the vast majority of the Google-box's content will be paid for by advertising rather than subscription.

Will this work?

Well, when you consider that, unlike a conventional TV tuner, the Google-box will allow viewers to directly interact with the advertising and be transported to the advertiser's website or online retail store with the click of a remote, there's a very high chance that such a service could steal a good chunk of the ad-revenue currently earned by traditional broadcasters.

There are some who believe that the ad-revenue from the Google-box service could eventually become the company's single largest source of income and that it may herald a significant change in the ad-funded television industry.

This all hinges on a number of assumptions of course.

Will TV viewers become active rather than passive? Can Google convince couch-potatoes to reach for the remote and click on an ad rather than just reach for another biscuit or piece of chocolate while viewing their favourite programmes?

And do they run the risk that all the truly "interactive" viewers are already in another room, surfing the web on their PCs?

It would appear that Google is doing its best to keep the Google-box very low-key right now, perhaps because they don't want to give the potential competition too much of a heads-up before they're ready to do a full launch. One thing's for sure though, given the effectiveness with which Google has established dominance in so many of the markets it has chosen to enter, traditional TV broadcasters should be preparing for the worst.

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