Google TV Gets A Cool Welcome

Google’s foray into Internet-connected TV did not exactly take the platform by storm, say analysts.

“Very early reviews mention issues with the video quality coming in from various websites,” says Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based In-Stat. “There also has been a problem with passing through high-definition video using the HDMI connections.”

Google launched its Google TV devices last month, with a line of enabled Sony HDTV sets, a Blu-ray player and a standalone set-top box, the Logitech Revue. All integrate Google’s Android operating system and its Chrome browser into TV sets. Google claimed superiority over established web-to-TV slingers like Roku and Boxee because its surfing capabilities were more robust. However, early adopters revealed software flaws.

Google also hit content issues going out. ABC, CBS, NBC and are blocking Google TV access to their online video platforms. Consequently, episodic TV shows available online are not available via Google TV. The platform throws a monkey wrench into the complex carriage arrangements hammered out by the networks.

"This steals a lot of the thunder from the Google TV launch, but it’s not a deal breaker,” the In-Stat folks noted. “Fox is still permitting Google TV access,” and several basic cable nets are creating compatible portals. The Turner nets were among the first on board, providing full-length reruns of NBC’s “The Office” among other off-net shows. Comedy Central is available, as well as TNT, SyFy, Bravo, Spike, USA Network and, on the broadcast side, PBS. Its PBS Kids network is optimized for Google TV.

In-Stat suggests if the next generation of Google TV devices includes an ATSC tuner and digital recording capabilities, “that solves the blocking problem.” By law, however, the Sony HD sets have ATSC tuners, so that’s not the issue. The recent retransmission dispute between Fox and Cablevision is an object lesson.

When Fox yanked the signals of three of its TV stations from Cablevision systems, most of the cable operator’s 3 million subscribers could have tuned them in over the air. But most did not, and instead balked at not having them on cable. Content copyright fees are increasingly platform specific.

As for Google TV’s technical issues, which appear to involve a number of video codecs, the company is responding by giving 10,000 devices to developers. Several thousand have been given to established developers, and more are available via application at Google’s give-away site.

While Google gets its software ducks in a row, Yahoo is going after a bigger piece of the TV-web space in collaboration with Samsung. The pair announced a plan to sell Yahoo-connected TVs in 26 countries, bringing the worldwide market to 39 nations. The Yahoo TV widget is a limited-access Web interface, but Yahoo executives are confident people don’t necessarily want full browser capabilities in their TV sets.

Yahoo says it’s TV widget is now available on 70 models of TV sets priced as low as $299, which is the price of the Google TV Revue box. Apple entered the space with its own $99 web-to-TV box in September. Apple TV has the added advantage of iTunes, iPhone, iPad and iPod connectivity.

Despite the competition in web-to-TV provision, broadcast networks need to hammer out a revenue model with Google TV, In-Stat says.

“Blocking access to popular TV shows to some devices, but permitting any Wi-Fi-connected laptop to have full access is certainly not going to sit well with consumers,” In-Stat said. “And as the set-top boxes get better and better, consumers are going to want more and more of their content delivered ‘on-demand’ to their TV sets via the Internet.”