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A Google TV Check-up – Bracing for battle

As rumors fly today about Google reportedly asking its hardware partners to hold off showing their new products at CES next month, I thought it might be a good time to check in on Google TV.  Between disappointing early reviews and sales, it was difficult to see a solid use-case or ideal customer for the product.  Given the existing options for TV content (both traditional and online), Google TV has yet to stand on its own as deserving of your television.  Since that time, both a new Apple TV and the Boxee box have come to markets, though neither product has yet turned the internet TV market on its head either (if you could say there’s much of a market at all just yet).

Back when Google first announced Google TV, I speculated on this site that while the cable companies may not win on price, user interface, openness or features, they clearly take the lead in both content quality and user experience.  Hundreds of channels + even a basic DVR = coming home and having your favorite shows, commercial free.  While Google thinks that users want to focus on searching for their favorite shows, this really misjudges why DVRs have been so quickly adopted.  If I have a box in my living room that shows TV, I shouldn’t need to search for my favorite shows but once.  After that, the box should know what I watch and should bring it to me via subscription.

While Google has gone above and beyond other companies to try and integrate with users’ existing DVRs (they even include an infrared blaster), I don’t think they fully understand and appreciate how difficult and expensive past efforts to crack this space have been.  The fact that nearly every major content provider is already blocking access from Google TV devices should make clear that they are ready for a brawl to retain control.  Media companies are increasingly seasoned in matters where the internet starts to meddle with their walled gardens, and they won’t loosen their grip easily.  Though Google is making progress with some hardware partners, the loss of CES and the content blocking should cause some of them serious concern.

Even if Google positions itself with hardware partners and spends a mountain of $$$, the existing media conglomerates know high-quality content delivered on-demand to internet-connected TVs is an opportunity too rich to pass off to an outsider.  So long as they distribute via a company controlled by (or indebted to) one of them, there’s a pretty good chance that partner will play fair, by rules they understand and won’t take too large a chunk of precious ad revenues.  See Hulu.  No need to rock the boat, and Google offers no such assurances.