Eventually, when the cool glow of Google’s announcement of Google TV this morning dies down a bit, someone will ask the obvious question, one that dogs almost every new product or service the search giant releases: Why is Google doing TV software? Sure, Google makes a valid point that search can become a new way to find content on TV, especially since the lines between the vast Web and TV content are blurring in this new age of Internet-connected TVs. That makes today’s onscreen TV guides, where you have to scroll through lists of channels and shows, hopelessly cumbersome. So yes, there’s at least an overt reason for Google to try to bring its search expertise to bear.
Still, I think the real opportunity for Google is to add television as a platform for advertising. It’s no secret that the company has tried to move beyond the Web, but its efforts in radio and print advertising went nowhere. Google’s TV advertising push also hasn’t taken off, but the potential has remained the most promising because as Web-to-TV devices such as Tivo, Boxee, Roku, and many others start to catch on and settop boxes allow for collection of data about people’s viewing habits and even their Web activities, television is a natural extension for Google.
Amid all the cool features and geeky API stuff, it was telling that Google saw fit to mention not only television’s huge audience of 4 billion people worldwide, but also the TV advertising market of $70 billion in the U.S. alone. That’s why Google TV is likely much more than one of Google’s many Why-Not-Try-It? products (and certainly more than a hobby). Indeed, it’s also telling that CEO Eric Schmidt dragged such consumer electronics and tech luminaries as Sony CEO Howard Stringer, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, and Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn onstage at the Google I/O developer conference where Google TV was announced. Not least, Schmidt later told Fox Business Network: “Our advertising is targeted,” so “we can do even more relevant television advertising, which should be worth a lot of money.”
It will be interesting to see if people accept ads of any kind as readily as they do current TV ads. I presume ads that appear next to Google TV search results, unlike conventional TV ads, won’t be skippable, so they could prove more intrusive. It seems pretty certain that new forms will have to emerge. But Google provided no examples beyond mentioning that Google TV would open up the possibility of interactive ads.
At the same time, the combination of Web and TV on the TV itself may open up new advertising possibilities for Google on the Web–in particular, on YouTube. By virtue of being viewed mostly on PCs and mobile phones, which are more interactive devices that people use to do something rather than simply watch stuff, YouTube hasn’t been able to leverage the vast base of TV ads; they feel too intrusive. But with a new personalized channel called YouTube Leanback–leanback a term often used to describe the TV viewing experience–watching YouTube may become more of a TV-like experience, one where traditional TV ads may seem more natural, or at least no more annoying than on regular television.
It’s tough to tell how advertising will evolve in this about-to-converge world. And given marketers’ conservatism in trying out new things, ads that fit this new hybrid Web-TV format will take awhile to develop. But it seems likely that Google TV opens up a new world of advertising opportunities for a company long described as a one-trick pony.