Google is, of course, worming its way into every aspect of our lives, just like a creepy stalker. Come to think of it, Google is actually the digital version of a creepy stalker: it follows you everywhere and wants to know what you’re doing at all times, collecting photos and videos of you, although at least it doesn’t create some sort of creepy shrine. And this is especially true of your television viewing habits, which it wants to influence with Google TV.
The basic idea is that instead of being beholden to broadcast schedules, you can plug your TV into a box and search across the Internet to find your TV shows. It’ll offer up listings and any places that the show might be running elsewhere on the Internet, like Hulu or Amazon.com, basically turning channel flipping into a focused activity. There are a few problems, like figuring out how and if Google is going to bother paying networks for the content Google TV finds, and how advertising will be sold, but we have no doubt Google is going to roll out Google TV one way or the other.
And then it will crash screaming into the ground. Seriously, this is not going to end well.
The problem isn’t the idea; it’s the set-top box. Consumer electronics companies have been trying to get people to buy set-top boxes for years, with the dream of being the sole gatekeeper for what people see, and it’s always ended, without exception, in fire and tears. Everybody from tiny start-ups like Vudu to big consumer electronics giants like Apple to PC makers like HP have tried and failed. It’s pretty simple: nobody wants to buy another box to try and fit in their entertainment center.
A good example of somebody who actually learned from the market is Netflix. They don’t want to control your TV: they just want to be an option on your TV. This is why pretty much anything with a processor you can hook up to a TV can stream Netflix, because Netflix didn’t tie itself to one box. If anything, this is more Google trying to take Netflix on its own turf.
And we’re forced to ask what GoogleTV does for us that Google itself doesn’t do already. If we’re searching for TV shows, we’re probably on, say, our laptop, or one of those tablet computers the iPad has made so popular.
It’s not that we can’t see a market or an upside: being able to search all over the Internet to find TV without breaking out the laptop would, in fact, be highly useful, especially since there are dozens of authorized video sites on the web at this point, but they all have different episodes and differing levels of quality. And we have little doubt Google TV’s going to be very popular on actual computers as a component of Google Video, and might see use on TiVo and other computerized services.
But as a set-top box? Color us just a wee bit skeptical. There are some things even Google can’t do.