Google TV is coming out soon. I’ve been watching it for a while and I think it’s pretty exciting. The technology for the Internet and TV to merge has been with us for a while, but I think most content providers (TV channels, DirecTV and Dish, ISPs, etc.) are not willing themselves to fully initiate this merger. After all, it will force them to make huge changes to their business models. I’m sure they know they’re going to have to eventually (many TV channels do now put shows online for a limited time), so it’s only a matter of resisting it as best they can for as long as they can.
Two things about Google TV: First, it’s only a first step. Or maybe a fourth or fifth step, since things like Apple TV are already available. But Google TV is a significant step because it allows users almost complete access to the Internet, and it offers apps that are designed to be used on the TV. (And, just as popular sites have “mobile” versions, many will eventually have “TV” versions as well.)
But it’s not a final step. That will probably not come for another decade or two (or three). The separation between computer and TV is still a strong one, as is the separation between TV content providers and ISPs. Unfortunately I’ve read that Hulu.com is blocking access from Google TV. This may seem like a bummer for us excited about Google TV, but it’s actually rather revealing just how important that control over your TV screen is to the networks. Very revealing indeed. And, to me, makes Google TV seem more exciting. Because Hulu’s weary of it.
The other thing: yes, I know, we can all already hook up our computers to the TV (and watch Hulu on our TV). Geeks have been able to do it for a while. But I still think hooking a computer up to a TV is too inconvenient even for most geeks; they only do it when they need to, and it’s still hard to get comfortable using your computer from a couch without a desk in front of you.
TV is extremely easy to watch; users just have to know how to turn it on and change the channels. Computers and the Internet and Internet connections can be more of a hassle. Maybe not for us geeks, but for the rest of the population. It’s easy to underestimate how many people out there either don’t have the Internet, or don’t really understand how to use it effectively. Google TV won’t give people an Internet connection, but it will make TV Internet browsing significantly easier for non-geeks. I think that’s what a lot of geeks might not realize. And that’s why it has the potential to be pretty powerful. (Especially since Google TV’s OS, Google’s open-source Android, allows anyone to develop apps for it, which is more freedom than Apple likes giving to developers.)
Nobody knows what anybody wants.
Consumers do not know what they want until it’s actually available to them or until they try using it. (Like how Facebook is now mostly pretty much a private fancy Twitter with comments, likes, and apps. Users didn’t want it or ask for it, but now many users use it almost every day. If it were up to the users, Facebook would probably still be plain old profiles with wall-writing. And it would probably be as unpopular as MySpace.)
Similarly, producers and content creators don’t know what people want. They don’t know if their products will be successful until they’re actually out there, until people actually have a chance to see and play around with the products.
This is why it always annoys me when companies say they will evolve based on customer feedback. That’s great, but you can’t rely on that. You have to be constantly thinking of ways to improve and change and experiment on your own as well. Just listening to customers won’t make you successful.
The future, eventually
Eventually, the TV networks like ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, will simply have to give up their control of showing shows when and only when they want. VCRs first started giving viewers more control when to watch TV content, then DVRs, then cable companies offering certain on-demand options, then sites like Hulu. Eventually, when our connection to TV and the Internet are combined, sold as a package, and come into the home via one connection, most content will be on-demand. It’s probably still decades away, but I think it will be a good future. (And us geeks may get there sooner, yes.)
Also, there are a few things that will really change how TV content is watched, but they are unpredictable… I predict some unpredictable things will happen.
Hey, I thought Google Wave was really exciting, and I don’t think Google ever really let it do what it was supposed to do, and it became an epic flop. I also thought the iPhone was a dumb idea, and now tons of people love it. So who really knows what the heck is going to happen…