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Google’s Growing Troubles With Google TV

Google TV just can’t catch a break – and the repercussions could reach beyond the search giant.

The Web-meets-TV set-top box was meant to make it easy for users to find whatever video they were looking for on their television sets—both on the air and online.

Google TV
Courtesy of Logitech
Google TV

But the number of content providers who are blocking access from Google TV has grown steadily since the service’s launch. Hulu was first, but it wasn’t long before the networks were also preventing the service from streaming their video content.

Monday, Viacom joined the fold, meaning Google TV owners could no longer watch Comedy Central, Nickelodeon or MTV online video. Users who try to access the sites are met with a message reading “Sorry, this content is unavailable for your device.”

The joining of ranks among content providers couldn’t come at a worse time for Google . As the holiday season approaches and shoppers debate whether to splurge for Google TV, there is less and less programming to watch on the device.

Even more frustrating: it doesn’t look like the standoff will end anytime soon.

“I don’t see any signs they’re figuring this out,” says James McQuivey, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Google is a company that’s based on engineering, but doesn’t understand human passions. If they had done the business sensible thing, they would have called the content providers before the reveal and say: ‘We want to announce this. We want your cooperation. Here’s how we think you can make money on it. Let’s talk.’ As far as I know, those conversations never happened.”

The setback not only affects Google, but its partners in Google TV—Sony and Logitech, which are both actively promoting the product. The service is integrated into certain Sony TV models and in Logitech’s Revue set-top box.

“They can’t be particularly happy about this,” notes McQuivey. “Also, Best Buy has committed a lot of end cap space to promote it this holiday and it’s hating life right now.”

At present, the only major content provider that’s allowing Google TV to access its video is Time Warner. Otherwise, premium content is by subscription online from the usual suspects—Netflix, Amazon , etc. Those companies already offer their services on a slew of consumer electronics, though, and have even been integrated directly into many newer TV models.

More Bad News After Christmas?

When consumers realize that, it could mean another slate of bad news after the holidays.

Youtube celebrates 5 years.
Youtube celebrates 5 years.

“Consumer want to plug and play easily and want the product to just work,” says Derek Baine of SNL Kagan. “When it doesn’t do so, they tend to just put it back in the box and return it.”

The decision of content providers to stand in unison against Google TV comes as the consumer electronics industry gears up for its annual convention in January.

Initially, there were plenty of hints and whispers that Google TV would be integrated into a number of devices. Recently, though, that talk has quieted noticeably.

It’s unclear whether manufacturers are going into a silent mode or are concerned about the reaction Google TV is receiving and backing off of their plans. But the reception has certainly erased the sense of urgency surrounding the service.

“Delaying this [integration] is not a bad thing,” says McQuivey. “Say you’re LG and wanted to do something before Samsung, the number one set manufacturer, did. Suddenly, you don’t have that need to rush. If everyone says that, then there’s no press rush and Google TV suffers another setback.”

The irony, of course, is that even critics of Google TV are fairly enthusiastic about the device’s concept. Instead of having to search multiple places to find their content, people can quickly find what they’re looking for in a single interface, without having to scroll through long channel lists.

The service’s plans to add an app experience to television are also widely praised.

The problem is Google’s reputation. When the company bought YouTube in 2006, it was widely accused of ignoring the concerns of content providers, who saw the service as a haven for piracy. Though that division now has a cordial relationship with content providers, they’re still wary of the company.

They’re even more afraid of cord cutting—users canceling their cable subscriptions and instead watching programming online. A possible way around that would be to integrate Google TV into cable set-top boxes—but analysts say that’s not likely to happen soon.

“Cable operators want to be in charge of the interface, I think,” says Baine. “There have been a lot of other battles with other companies that are doing programming guides. Most of the operators have been very slow to roll out things like Tivo boxes that have their own interfaces, providing someone other than them with the opportunity to make a lot of money.”

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