Here Comes Google TV: The Fans (and the Skeptics) Weigh In

If there are many skeptics of Google TV, today at the Streaming Media West conference, a panel of (mostly) fans discussed the potential for the search giant’s newest obsession. On the panel were moderator James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research; Ashish Arora, VP and GM of Logitech‘s Digital Home Group; Christy Tanner, GM of TV Guide Online; Shalini Pai, group manager for partner solutions for YouTube and Google TV; and Jim Lanzone, CEO of Clicker.com. (For more from Google itself, check out my post on Google TV lead product manager Rishi Chandra’s keynote this morning at TechnologyReview.com)

Q: Do we need Internet connectivity in the living room? Tanner: We need Internet connectivity in the living room because it will give consumers more options. But more than that, we need more good content available. Her kids don’t know why everything ever created isn’t available whenever they want it. One of our top 10 watched episodes on our site is iCarly.

Lanzone: Clicker is a catalog of premium video, free and paid. We don’t draw an artificial distinction. The 60-inch panel on my wall is just another glowing rectangle. The milk is expiring (on traditional TV); the question is what is that date.

Q: Do we need to introduce to people the idea of interactivity on the TV?

Arora: People don’t care about the details of devices. They just want the content. When you ask people what is important to you, they say video quality and sound quality is important. But when you ask them how well the TV works, the No. 1 thing they mention is the need to power on four or five different controls. Passive watching on the TV is going to continue for the longest time. But as new applications, services, and experiences come onto the TV, people will want them. Just like what happened with the phone after the iPhone arrived.

Q: Will Google TV succeed? McQuivey thinks it will. The others? Tanner: Something like Google TV will succeed. Google is a trusted brand, especially for searching for a show. The question is whether the content will be there. Even though there is an enormous long tail of independent, Web-originated video, there is still a finite pool of talent in writing, directing, and acting. The commercial shows are primarily what people want to watch so they can talk about it with their friends. I don’t expect that the content blocking will last forever.

Pai: Of course (it will succeed). It’s an open platform. I as a user can access anything that I want. It’s also an open platform for me as a developer.

Q: How do you control the app experience so there’s not a lot of junk? Pai: The bad apps, the ones people don’t want, will slowly filter from the top and the good ones will rise to the top–natural selection.

Lanzone: This is a first draft of Google TV. Really the gating factor is the business model. Anyone who is a middleman today is under a threat. No, I don’t think it’s going to be a box (that is successful). Why do I have to go through that box (Google TV) to get to the box (TV) that I want. It’s also not about apps. It kind of sounds like AOL of 1995. That’s not really what you’re going to wind up with.

Arora: My CEO asked me that question. We think success will be in open ecosystems. The consumer just wants to watch content, they want to be told which screen to watch it on.

Q: Will Apple challenge Google TV? Arora: Apple offers very rich, seamless experiences. Their entry in the TV space can only be good to have more rich experiences on television. Lanzone: Apple will go after Netflix more than Google. Apple will have a challenge providing a guide and content at the same time (untenable to offer navigation and iTunes content for sale at the same time). Pai: Apple is competing against not Netflix or Google but the OEMs (Sony, Samsung, etc.).

Q: Dennis Crowley this morning tweeted a question: When will it be possible for app developers to create apps that will operate on top of live TV? Pai: Yes, as Android Market launches early next year.

Q: (from the audience): Why doesn’t Google license content and become an MSO (pay TV) provider like Verizon and AT&T have done? Why not create an over-the-top offering? Pai: We do have YouTube. But we’re not looking to compete with our distribution partners. McQuivey: They perceive that Google is competitive, like in ads.

Q: Why the high price on Google TV products? Arora: He sounds uncomfortable, and says next year we’ll see lower prices on various products. Revue is a showplace platform. Other issues: This is not a subscription service, so no ongoing cost. And the Logitech remotes can be used with other TV gear.

Q: What are the obstacles Google TV needs to overcome? More partners, more content, better user experience? Tanner: Making things simple is the hardest thing. A simple experience is critical. McQuivey: We’re going to need more TV makers. Arora: We have to deliver impeccably great, immersive experiences.

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