Can Google Get TV Right?

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try again.

That appears to be Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s motto as it makes yet another run at the home TV screen. After absolutely failing four times in four years and then finally succeeding, at least partially, with the pocket-sized Chromecast dongle last fall, the Internet search giant is back at it again, hoping to find the magic formula for luring flocks of viewers to its TV platform.

What is different this time is that Google is no longer trying to woo viewers with its own set-top boxes or other equipment. Instead, Google is leaving the gear totally to its equipment partners and coming out with a new version of its popular Android operating system designed specifically for the large home video screen.

At Google’s I/O developers’ conference in San Francisco Wednesday, company officials took great pains to stress that the upcoming software release, known as Android TV, is not a new platform for entertainment. Rather, they insisted, it is a more all-encompassing upgrade of Android that will make it easier to watch and navigate content on TVs, streaming media players, tablets, game consoles, and other larger video devices. “We’re simply giving TV the same level of attention phones and tablets have had,” said David Singleton, Android director of engineering for Google, as quoted by VentureBeat.

Google is trying to do that in a number of ways. For one thing, the company is enabling Android TV viewers to use their Android smartphones as remote controls, just as Chromecast users can do. Similarly, other Android-based devices with “D-Pads,” such as game controllers, tablets, and even traditional remote control devices and smartwatches, can act as remote controls.

For another, Google will allow Android TV viewers to use voice commands to search and navigate video titles, like the compact new Fire TV streaming media set-top from Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN). So button-pressing could become a thing of the past, at least for some. (See Amazon Joins Video Streaming Wars.)

In addition, like the new Amazon Fire TV, Android TV will let users access a wide range of gaming titles and feature a video recommendation engine. The new software release, more technically known as “Android L,” will also let viewers beam, or “cast,” content from their other Android-powered devices or web browsers to their TV sets, just as Chromecast does.

Perhaps most importantly, Google is coming back to the TV screen with much more content than ever before. Viewers will be able to use apps for Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), YouTube Inc. , and other popular web video sites and buy video titles and other apps from the Google Play store. They will also be able to use Android TV to watch live TV shows and play video games.

So maybe, just maybe, Google, like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Roku Inc. , and Amazon before it, has finally figured out how to do TV right. The sixth time could be the charm, after all. We shall see.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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