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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pcharles09 7/22/2014 | 9:05:49 AM
RE: Google climbing heights with home TV screens I think Apple suffered in the streaming game b/c they tried the same old lock-in method & wasted time. Roku said "Hey we're gonna just let them use what they already have..." & it took off.

IMO, Google's just trying too many things.
Mitch Wagner 7/9/2014 | 7:41:02 PM
RE: Google climbing heights with home TV screens pcharles09 - "They're trying so I give them credit. All it takes is for one thing to be great & Apple TV will take off. But for now, I just don't see it happening. Netflix + Smart TVs left them in the dust."

Seems to me Google TV -- or any new set-top box needs a killer feature if it's going to take off. 

IIRC, Apple had the first affordably priced streaming box. The market was a green field for them. Even then, it was just a "hobby" for Apple for years (the word used by Steve Jobs and Tim Cook). They didn't sell many units. 

Roku came along and beat Apple at Apple's own game. Roku has a box that's just plain easier to use. You can search for programming across services, rather than search one service at a time for the programming you watch. And, as a nice touch, the remote doesn't have to be able to "see" the set-top box to work. 

What's Google got? Voice search won't cut it. I simply don't believe Google can implement voice search in a way that's easier than using a remote. Sure, in theory it'd be nice to just say, "OK Google, show me the latest episode of GAME OF THRONES." But in reality voice won't be reliable. It'll be like talking to your deaf great-grandmother who refuses to turn up her hearing aid. 
pcharles09 6/30/2014 | 6:42:20 PM
RE: Google climbing heights with home TV screens They're trying so I give them credit. All it takes is for one thing to be great & Apple TV will take off. But for now, I just don't see it happening. Netflix + Smart TVs left them in the dust.
Mitch Wagner 6/30/2014 | 2:06:13 PM
RE: Google climbing heights with home TV screens Ability to use your phone as a remote is nice, but it's not a barn-burner. The Apple TV has phone connectivity and that hasn't made the Apple TV a market leader. 

As for voice control: Let's see how that works in real life, in a crowded, noisy living room. 
SachinEE 6/28/2014 | 5:22:40 AM
RE: Google climbing heights with home TV screens In my view, in order to succeed, you should never give up. Every failure should be a motivation to unravel your mistakes and achieve your goals. Therefore, I can say that Google is on the right track to finding out ways to lure flocks of viewers to its TV platform. So far, it has enabled Android TV viewers to use their smart phones as remote controls as well as use voice commands to navigate video titles. Isn't that a great move? I can confidently say that Google has already done it!
Michelle 6/27/2014 | 11:09:07 PM
Re: Ho hum You really put this into perspective. They've got a very long way to get as good as other products on the market...not exciting stuff.
Mitch Wagner 6/27/2014 | 2:20:09 PM
Ho hum Hard to get excited about this. Six tries, and the best Google can do is come out with software that's no better than what's available from Apple and Roku, while being not as good as TiVo. 
Mitch Wagner 6/27/2014 | 2:18:55 PM
Re: Content relationships That's how the game is played in consumer IT nowadays. It's not just about selling a consumer a phone, desktop computer, or set-top box. It's about getting the consumer into the vendor ecosystem, and selling them the phone AND computer AND set-top box AND tablet AND services to go with all of it. 
alanbreznick 6/27/2014 | 11:35:12 AM
Re: Content relationships Good points. But i still think the content relationships are the key to any successful TV venture, as Dan says. Without the content deals, Google will bever achieve its ambitious goals in this space.  
Michelle 6/27/2014 | 10:18:56 AM
Re: Content relationships It seems content providers are finally starting to see value in set top boxes and streaming content outside of regularly scheduled broadcasts.
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