Google TV: are we missing something?

17 Jul 2012  |  Chris King 

Having successfully tapped into the smartphone market with the Android operating system, it is unsurprising that Google looked to replicate this success with its Google TV platform.

Announced back in 2010 and launched the same year in the US, Google TV has endured a difficult transition from conception to market.

A year later, in December 2011, executive chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt promised boldly to Europe: "By the summer of 2012, the majority of televisions you see in stores will have Google TV embedded" in them.

Playing the waiting game?

There are currently four Google TV devices on sale in the US, and just two integrated TV sets - which hardly constitutes dominance of a market that has exploded over the past few years.

According to Ofcom figures from 2010, one million internet-enabled TVs were sold in the UK that year.

The market is clearly saturated, and there are a host of doubts surrounding the Google TV project.

Steve Smith, writing last month, asked if anyone would actually buy the Google TV platform, which is set to retail for £200, compared to Apple TV's £100 price tag.

Smith pointed out that, rather than pay £200 for the Android operating system on a TV set, users still accustomed to more traditional viewing patterns may choose to invest in an Xbox or PlayStation 3 console, which offer access to games and video-on-demand services such as BBC iPlayer.

The data supports this hypothesis - a YouGov survey looking at smart TV showed that while 15% of customers in the UK would own a connected TV set, such as Google's, within the next 12 months, around 25% would own a games console able to access TV-on-demand.

An article in Broadband TV News concluded that "with their sustainability as gifts and a lower price point, [games consoles] would be far more likely to become the device consumers use to view internet-delivered content on their TV."

What now for Google TV?

It isn't all bad news for Google TV, however. Last month the company announced a deal with Sony that will see the service become available outside of the US - more specifically, in the UK.

Rather like Schmidt's earlier promise, the marketing for Google TV certainly points towards success. As Gildas Pelliet, head of marketing in Europe for Sony said: "Entertainment content is available through so many channels and sites.

"Google TV helps consumers easily find what they want to watch, listen to or play with the freedom of the internet and using the familiar Chrome search engine technology."

Google TV certainly ticks the interactivity boxes, providing users with access to the internet via an Android browser as well as the ability to play games and watch videos.

Similarly to Apple TV, Google TV can be controlled through a smartphone. In addition to the current offering, a £300 Blu-ray box is expected to be launched later this year.

The price remains an issue for Google TV's competition with its Apple equivalent - £200 compared to £99 - while despite Apple TV being an "experiment", according to CEO Tim Cook, Google appears to be serious about putting its previous issues to bed and succeeding in the UK market.

What does Google TV have to do in order to succeed?

One of the issues faced by Google TV in the US was having the online content of ABC, CBS and NBC blocked from its service back in October 2010.

Attempting to avoid this throughout Europe and making sure that the user experience is seamless, rather like the broadcast TV experience, is essential to Google's success.

This is the view of Bill Scott at easeltv, who also supports the tracking of user history and behaviour to suggest programming, rather than Google TV being a £200 search engine for your television.

As Josh Halliday recently wrote in the Guardian, Google TV could benefit from bringing "the entire online world on to the big screen, including emails, news websites and Wikipedia", which Apple TV doesn't yet do.

Despite this advantage, the experts remain sceptical. Director of devices and platforms Geoff Blaber, of CCS Insight said:

"It's a very difficult challenge to explain to a consumer what they're buying when it's in a stand-alone set-top box, and at £200 this is an expensive product.

"I think the fact it's taken so long for Google to move out beyond the US market is indicative of the challenges they have had with Google TV to date."

The company has even admitted that it faces challenges with the product: Suveer Kothari, head of global TV distribution for Google added: "We think there's going to be huge benefits from bringing the internet to TV.

"Google TV attempts to address the problem that there's not really a great experience to access the internet on your TV screen, which is a similar problem we saw in the smartphone market five years ago."

With Schmidt promising that, as with the rest of Google's product range "we have very aggressive targets", the connected TV world will certainly stay tuned to this on-going series...

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