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Here Comes Google TV To Merge Television and the Internet

By Sree Sreenivasan | May 24, 2010 6:02pm

By Sree Sreenivasan

DNAinfo Contributing Editor

Doctors and meteorologists get asked for free advice at cocktail parties all the time. So, too, with technology experts about new gadgets and technology.

"Should I buy the iPad?"  Do those 3D TV's really work?"  "What laptop should I get my son when he goes to college?" I've been asked in recent weeks.

And now, "What do you think of Google TV?"

For a product that doesn't even exist yet, it's a testament to the power of the Google brand that the announcement has generated so much buzz.

So what exactly is it? The slogan: "TV meets web. Web meets TV." That's not very helpful.

Here's what the Official Google Blog has to say:

Google TV is a new experience for television that combines the TV that you already know with the freedom and power of the Internet. With Google Chrome built in, you can access all of your favorite websites and easily move between television and the web. This opens up your TV from a few hundred channels to millions of channels of entertainment across TV and the web. Your television is also no longer confined to showing just video. With the entire Internet in your living room, your TV becomes more than a TV — it can be a photo slideshow viewer, a gaming console, a music player and much more.

Google TV uses search to give you an easy and fast way to navigate to television channels, websites, apps, shows and movies. For example, already know the channel or program you want to watch? Just type in the name and you’re there. Want to check out that funny YouTube video on your 48” flat screen? It’s just a quick search away. If you know what you want to watch, but you’re not sure where to find it, just type in what you’re looking for and Google TV will help you find it on the web or on one of your many TV channels. If you’d rather browse than search, you can use your standard program guide, your DVR or the Google TV home screen, which provides quick access to all of your favorite entertainment so you’re always within reach of the content you love most.

In other, fewer, words, Google TV makes real what has been predicted for years: the merger of the computer and the television. Then, the thinking goes, you'll be able to access the Internet and TV content (and, of course, advertising) in new and different ways.

Google TV will be offered in two ways this fall. One, via branded high-definition TV sets and Blu-ray players from Sony, and via set-top boxes made by Logitech. Other partners, such as Best Buy and Dish Networks, were part of the announcement last week at Google's developer conference.

You can see how this is all supposed to work via this video, which says, "By opening up your TV to all the innovations the web has to offer, Google TV will make your TV smarter and easier to use. You'll spend a lot less time finding what you want and a lot more time watching what you want."
At the conference, Google revealed why it was moving into the TV market: sheer numbers. Worldwide, there are 1 billion computers and 2 billion cellphones, but there are 4 billion TV watchers.

Last fall, Nielsen's "Three Screen Report" (which looks at TV, computer and cellphone usage) offered these stats: the average American consumes 35 hours of TV; two hours of timeshifted (DVR or Tivo) TV; four hours of Internet use; 22 minutes of online video watching and four minutes of mobile video viewing. Fifty-nine percent of Americans are now using TV and Internet simultaneously at least once per month, spending 3.5 hours each month on both simultaneously.

All those numbers and all those big-name partners are no guarantee that Google TV will be a success. Google, for all its success in search, has had its share of ventures that have not exactly succeeded (including Google Video, Orkut, Google Buzz and others). Another big company, Apple, ventured into this space without much luck (I am one of the few folks I know who likes and uses the Apple TV set-top box).

Where Hulu fits into all this is going to be an important factor. The site, which has revolutionized how people watch Hollywood-produced TV and movies, controls a lot of the content that people will want to watch. Mashable's Christina Warren called Hulu "the elephant in the room," and she's right — if Hulu won't play nice with Google TV, that's one more reason consumers may ignore it.

But given the scale of its ambition and the potential rewards for getting it right, I am willing to give Google TV a fair viewing when it's rolled out. The key will be whether it's easy to set up, easy to figure out and easy to use. Anything that involves complicated wiring and menus will kill this wannabe video star.

You can sign up here to get updates about Google TV.

What do you think? Is this something you might adjust your TV-purchasing plans for? Let me know in the comments or via Twitter @sreenet.

Each Monday, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan, a Columbia Journalism School professor, shares his observations about the changing media landscape.