Can Cable Block the Google TV Revolution?

Behind the scenes at the Federal Communications Commission, a quiet war is being waged over the future of television. It isn’t getting as many headlines as net neutrality or the Comcast/NBCU merger, but the debate is nearly as important. It’s about how far Google, Sony, and their allies can take their Google TV system.

Big Cable is trying to set limits on how easy it will be for devices like Google TV to access pay TV content and reassemble it into something that will reconfigure both television and the internet.

In their bid to get the FCC to help Google TV and similar devices, “Sony/Google are asking the Commission to ignore copyright, patent, trademark, contract privity, licensing, and other legal rights and limitations that have been thoroughly documented,” the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) warned last Wednesday.

What is NCTA talking about? The trade association is trying to set limits on how easy it will be for devices like Google TV to access pay TV content and reassemble it into something that will reconfigure both television and the internet.

That’s at the heart of the FCC’s proposal for an AllVid system, which Google very loudly supports. AllVid doesn’t exist yet, but the idea is to mandate an industry-wide gadget that you could plug into your broadband router and connect to your cable TV provider, then watch online video and pay channels through a variety of AllVid-friendly devices. Not surprisingly, Google and Sony love this idea, because it could transform the Google TV from just a neat product into a revolution.

Big cable hates the proposal, because that revolution could leave multi-video program distributors (MVPDs), if not in the dust, at least working in a far more competitive video environment. But the AllVid proposal faces real technical challenges that have yet to be worked out.

At present, Google TV is a suite of devices that integrate streaming IP video services like YouTube with various kinds of third-party content, all searchable on a Google TV screen. You can get in on this by buying the Google TV standalone HDTV set, or by hooking your extant screen to a Logitech Revue or Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Disc Player.

As our own Chris Foresman notes, the gear is expensive and kind of clunky, but you can also use your phone as a remote control, and voice command functionality is on the way.

The biggest challenge for Google TV has been finding pay content partners. The DISH network is accessible via the device. And Google has clinched content deals with HBO, CNBC, Turner Broadcasting and the National Basketball Association.

But other providers are loudly declining to hop on the bandwagon, most noticeably Viacom, which has blocked full episodes of its fare from the Google TV browser (no big shocker here; the company is suing Google’s YouTube for $1 billion over copyright infringement claims).

So what would turn Google TV or any similar gadget into a truly revolutionary machine is an interface that easily allows any HDTV/set top box system to tap into any couch potato service, while simultaneously serving as a gateway to the Internet, with all its search, cloud, and social networking functionalities. For millions of households that still experience the ‘net as less of an imperative than television, the internet would become television.

Continue reading …

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s