Google TV, the latest service to offer Internet content on TV screens, holds the promise of making all the living room’s media as searchable as the Internet’s text, but that promise requires at least some cooperation from media companies. And many have been reluctant to help.
Their caution was underscored when Google announced on Monday that several television networks, Internet and media companies, including HBO, CNBC and Twitter, will be its partner in offering Web content and programming via televisions, to allow on-demand viewing and apps built for the big screen. But the major networks—ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC—were absent from Google’s content partnerships.
With Google TV, the company wants to be a leader in the burgeoning industry of Internet-connected television sets, which will be in 43 million United States homes by 2015, according to Forrester Research.
Google argues that the main reason that people are spending less time watching TV and more time on their cellphones and computers is because TVs lack the Web. By turning television screens into a Web portal, Google—along with a line of other companies like Apple, TiVo, Boxee and Roku—hopes to be a part of the five hours a day that the average American spends watching TV programming and ads.
Google’s technology, which was announced in May and will be available to consumers in the coming weeks in time for the holidays, will be built into new Sony high-definition televisions and Blu-ray players, and into a Logitech set-top box that viewers can use with TVs they already own. Google will make its software available to other television and set-top box manufacturers.
Google has been in talks with the major television networks and the major cable and satellite distributors about collecting TV schedules and programs for search purposes, but the company announced only a few concrete partnerships on Monday.
One is with Turner Broadcasting, which owns TBS, TNT, and other cable channels. It said it would optimize the Web sites of its channels for big-screen viewing. These Web sites are largely promotional, and indeed a number of networks said privately that they saw opportunities to promote their shows through Google TV.
HBO will offer HBO Go, which allows HBO subscribers to watch shows on-demand. Viewers will also be able to rent, purchase and stream shows and movies from Amazon.com, which start at 99 cents, and Netflix, which sells unlimited viewing subscriptions for $8.99 a month.
Google is also talking to media companies about creating apps for big screens. NBC Universal said it would deploy CNBC Real-Time, which allows for stock-tracking on the screen alongside the live broadcast of the CNBC business channel, and the NBA built NBA Game Time for following basketball news.
Several media and Internet companies have also built new versions of their Web sites for viewing on the big screen. These include Vevo, Pandora and Napster for listening to music through TVs; Blip.tv and YouTube Leanback for watching online videos; USA Today, The New York Times and Twitter.
Google is trying to make watching TV easier in a world in which people are used to watching what they want when they want it. Google has used its search expertise to create a search bar for Google TV. A search for “Mad Men,” for instance, would show when it is playing on television as well as links to watch it online, view IMDB pages about the show or, next year, access related apps that software developers might build.
With Google TV, viewers can customize their home screen to show their favorite channels, Web sites and apps and use the Internet and watch TV at the same time, so they can watch “Mad Men,” chat with their friends on Twitter about the episode and visit or share Web pages, all on the same screen. They can also visit a photo sharing site like Picasa or Flickr and see their photographs on their televisions.
Logitech is building a remote control for searching the TV and the Web, and viewers can also use their Android phones or iPhones as a remote control and “fling” a video they are watching on their phones to the television.
“One of our goals with Google TV is to finally open up the living room and enable new innovation from content creators, programmers, developers and advertisers,” Ambarish Kenghe, developer product manager for Google TV, wrote in a company blog post.