I’ve been using my Google TV (GTV) since I got it (a week ago?? Whenever)
The important question it raises is “what is TV”.
GTV is interesting but you can also bring the video into a PC with products like Microsoft’s Media Center or just by running apps like Netflix on the PC where it runs far better than the Android app they did. In fact this note caused me to try Netflix on the PC and unlike Flash apps it can stay full screen on side window while I do work with my main window. I also have a Mac Mini which I use as the “TV” source for my treadmill screen but I generally just Hulu or Amazon content.
One difference is that GTV is a small box that has a nice form factor but without the full array of PC apps. GTV also seems to have done a better job in handling the IR controls. They use RF instead of IR for the remote control and then seem to take advantage of the fact that the device is connected to power so they can use a very bright IR rather than line of sight but I’m not sure. The downside is that the remote control – a keyboard is clunky.
So let’s separate out a few factors:
Maybe the battle is over what is TV more than how does the current business model continue.
That business model is currently tied to the grid and controlled distribution. There is also the “cable” business which is a mixture of brokered content and OTA (Over the Air) content being carried as per the old community antenna model mixed with must carry rules and spats with Fox about how to feed things through the STB. But the STB is dead and the software is beyond the design point of the box and is buggy. Yet the STB continues to be the chokepoint. But that is changing as “TV Anywhere” allows the broker model to extend to over-IP (or Over the Top).
The major part of the business model is indeed bundles be it the old “don’t change that dial” model of broadcast networks or the newer cable subscription model. It is not really a la carte as the shows on basic cable depend on being part of the bundle such as a newspaper is a whole and not just the parts.
There are experiments like Hulu that take the existing content and repurpose it (like DVDs did). With HuluPlus the experiment continues. I do notice that while plus gets me more content I still get commercials (ads) though often the slots are unsold. The content (AKA TV shows) are often edited to remove content that isn’t allowed to be repurposed in particular ways and whole swaths of content are missing due to contract limitations – all the middle seasons of Saturday Night Live aren’t on H+.
So if you have a sense that all this is in flux you’re right. The Fox spat with Cablevision seems to be positioning for this world or maybe the old world. Content providers that said fine to Hulu are now getting cold feet and then try to control content availability – how can Hulu use what. And then there’s Hulu itself getting spooked because there’s an x86 device running Android rather than PC or Mac which would do the same thing under a TV.
And we haven’t even finished legacy battles? Why are there DVRs in STBs when you can do the same thing with the content cached at the head end? Ask the lawyers. And you don’t even seem to own what you have recorded – it’s got DRM and can be unrecorded. And DRM … oy …
So this is all the retro concept of the television grid now repacked into salable DVDs or iTunes or Amazon apps or Netflix or VHS or … anyway to make a buck with controlled availability and packaging and … we’re still just beginning to take advantage of contact on small screens.
What’s ahead? Not quite sure what it is but part of the TV experience is letting something else do the choosing– a channel or a VJ or whatever so this could be very interesting. Leanback is one step in this direction. We might also see “long form” content on YouTube.
Can we reinvent that experience with new degrees of freedom? Kids have multiple screens going all at once – is integrating it all on one surface the right bet?
What about a rich sports experience?
What about … well there is so much more.
And there is where GTV, new form factor PCs etc. come to the fore. Supposedly the GTV SDK will be available in January …
Right now the battle is framed in terms of who owns the customer – will the TV (Samsung), an ad broker (Google) or a content source (networks) or a content broker (Cable companies) or a remix or will they just be part of a bigger picture.
And in the middle of this is a Federal Speech Commission? I can understand the FTC but why the FCC? Once upon a time we thought it had to manage our content experience because it assumed that meaning was an inherent property of the transport. Perhaps the biggest part of this is shaking off the legacy that has forced us into the television grid based on naïve idea of using frequencies to divvy up the wireless space thus creating the scarcity of distribution capacity that defines today’s concept of television.
So what is this thing we call TV? And how will we fund high cost content without scarcity to channel the money into a small number of pockets?
It’s not just about “television”:
I noticed that the Digital Living Network Alliance is asking for $10,000 to join and you have to pay to read the guidelines. It reminds me of IEEE-1934 (Firewire) which died because it defined the protocol in the wire. We’ve seen a similar problem with UPnP which over-defined the solution. But this is nothing new – back in 1997 I tried to argue for open interfaces but just as the old guard of the TV industry is trying to maintain their old business model the appliance manufacturers see the future in terms of the past.
There is also the desire to own more of the value chain thus building smarts into the TV itself to get more value than merely selling a commodity TV. In fact a TV as a device need be nothing more than a generic screen with an input signal. I typically just use a computer monitor these days. For some reason we still require a TV has a tuner for picking up over the air signals even though few people do so. If you want a tuner you can buy one as a small USB accessory these days so why build it in at all?
Tuner is such a strange word – dates back to the days of radios and dials as we tune in faint signals from afar. It’s a concept so disconnected from today’s notion of just typing in a URL. But for those making policy TV may still be what they remember with a dial and channels.
This is why the whole “digital TV conversion” mandated by congress was so crazy and clueless. The argument is that there was a need to free up spectrum for other purposes but all it did was annoy people. We don’t need to free up “spectrum” as I’ve explained. We just need to shift the funding model of telecom. The sad part is all that expense and effort could’ve gone into providing generic bi-direction connectivity (AKA “Internet”) with TV content is just part of the mix.
But what would require rethinking what we mean by “TV”.
Et tu Mobile?
“Mobile” is another backward-looking category as we attempt to take the wide open opportunity of small portable general purpose connected platforms and try to treat the market as little more than fancy telephones. We see parallels with as Apple tries to control the platform, Google’s Android opens it up for experimentation and Microsoft siloing what should be a very open device. Why do I need to get approved by Apple or Microsoft in order to write software for my own phone! Oh, it’s not really mine – I just paid for it.
OK, this has been fun for me and gave me a lot to think about. I learn by writing … and have lots more to mull than I can capture here.