Can Google TV succeed in the UK?
During this year’s Edinburgh Television Festival, Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt confirmed reports that the company will introduce Google TV into the UK market within the next 6 months. The service will be made available either through a set-top box or via integration into TV sets from the likes of Sony and other manufacturers.
Google TV has already been available in the US for some time, but despite a lengthy and aggressive marketing campaign backed up by positive early reviews, the service has received a lacklustre reception from the public. Sales of Google TV hardware have been disappointing to say the least. So why are US consumers so hesitant to embrace Google TV? Should we expect the same modest adoption here in the UK? To find out, let’s take a look at why the service has been struggling in the US.
Many believe the prospect of investing in yet another set-top box to place under the TV is to blame for the lack of adoption. Others believe it’s because people want to interact with programmes via mobile devices, such as phones and laptops, rather than overlaying content directly onto the TV screen itself. There’s no doubt both of these issues have contributed to the lack of Google TV adoption, but there are other far more destructive forces involved. These forces are the US cable companies.
The continued refusal by major US cable companies to permit access to their programming via Google TV has had a devastating effect on the service. The main purpose of Google TV is to provide users with the ability to search all of their available TV channels, applications and the entire web, via a single Google search box on their TV screen. With cable channels being some of the most important sources at Google TV’s disposal, their absence makes the experience far less attractive to customers.
Cable companies already provide their own set-top boxes (usually free of charge) from which they can tightly control the user experience. In a world where viewing figures dictate advertising revenue, the likes of Comcast and Time Warner Cable do not want their subscribers to be tempted away from ad-supported programming by third-party services such as YouTube and Netflix.
Unfortunately for consumers, it’s in a cable company’s best interest to stifle competition from services that either compete with or dilute their scheduled content. This leads us to the next question: why would Google TV fare any better in Britain? Well, luckily for us, things are a little different on this side of the Atlantic.
Thanks to the TV licensing fees we pay as a nation, we directly fund the BBC, which is the single most popular broadcasting network in the UK. Our contributions mean the BBC does not need to rely on advertising revenue to sustain itself. This in turn means there is absolutely no incentive for the BBC to restrict access to content on services like Google TV. In fact, it’s in the BBC’s best interest to make their content available in as many ways as possible.
Subscription services such as Sky TV and Virgin Media will likely block Google TV from indexing their content, just as their American counterpart’s did. The difference here is that we have the luxury of Freesat and Freeview access. This kind of free-to-air terrestrial broadcasting is far from ubiquitous in the US, making our market a very different place. It could play a major role in the success of Google TV in the UK.
Freesat and Freeview are incredibly popular digital services that span the length and breadth of Great Britain. They broadcast the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 networks among many others. Combined with the recent introduction of HD channels, they are a tempting alternative to the expensive satellite and cable options currently available in the UK. If Google can integrate their hardware into future Freesat and Freeview enabled TVs and receivers, and do this without affecting the price, we could see a huge surge of interest in Google TV. After all, why would you buy a standard Freeview box if you could get one with Google TV built-in for no extra cost?
It is unlikely that the stigma of Google TV’s poor adoption in the US would have any major effect on UK sales. If anything is to limit adoption, it will be price. Google could easily afford to subsidise their hardware to gain ubiquity within UK homes. Search ads, app sales and movie rentals would eventually help the company make their money back.
Whether Google have decided to partner with the likes of Freesat or Freeview, or whether they intend to go it alone, remains to be seen. One thing’s for certain: if they do take advantage of our free-to-air services, the future could be very bright for Google TV.Tagged in: cable, google, google Tv, technology, television
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