“You know the difference between a rich genius and a broke genius?” asked Clayton P. Knowles, Jr. Esq. as he peered over his half-moon readers, ” … a broke genius is two years ahead of his time, a rich genius is six months ahead of his time.” I was reminded of Clay’s prescient words over the past few days as Google, Intel and Sony announced the latest iteration of Google TV. It’s a new twist on an old idea: Google TV will connect your television set to the Internet and you’ll have the web at your fingertips. Yeah!
We’ve heard this song, sung in different keys (AppleTV, Vudu, Roku, TiVo, Sony Bravia Internet Link, Logitech, Jadoo, Microsoft’s venerable and seriously failed WebTV, etc.) for the past 10 years. There’s nothing new about the idea, nothing at all. However, this time Google may actually be just six months ahead of its time. If the timing is right, things are going to get very, very interesting.
There are some signs that their timing is right. We have more broadband connectivity available today than ever before and there’s more being deployed everyday. Hardware is getting more powerful: better CPUs, more RAM, more efficient video engines. Software is getting much, much better and development is accelerating. There’s an upward-trending movement of open-source, enlightened-third-party-helpers creating software. Companies are providing better APIs (application programming interfaces) and hosting better developer conferences.
Consumers are more connected and they want to connect more often. And, maybe the most important timing issue: consumers are exhibiting a behavior that I call, “best available screen.” Now, anyone will watch practically any length program on practically any device. This new personal consumption paradigm shift has left consumers wanting for a way to bring the experience of TV the art form to television the platform.
Of course, this is just one interpretation of a bunch of random data points. It is possible that no one is going to care about Google TV at all and that it will fail miserably. Conventional wisdom says failure is highly probable.
But I think there’s a reasonable expectation that this particular Google endeavor will be successful. If it is, we are going to see a pretty remarkable change in the business of television.
As you well know, consumers do not care how a show gets from the producer to their TV set. Whether it’s broadcast, cable, satellite, Internet, smoke signals, carrier pigeon … consumers don’t care. The only people who care about this exceptionally non-trivial issue are people who make a living translating the value of their intellectual property into wealth by transmitting it over one (or all) of these systems.
How would the business of television change if the first image you saw on your bright, big, beautiful Sony flat-screen was an optimized Google interface instead of a program guide provided by your cable or satellite service? The sound you just heard was the blood draining out of the brains of cable, satellite and even IPTV executives all over the world. It is, without question, their worst nightmare.
A fully deployed, consumer valued, scaled version of Google TV will be the single most destructive force to the current subscription, ad supported or dual-revenue television business models. Nothing can do it more harm.
Consumers who can consume ad-supported, cost-per-click/view, content that is measured for advertisers by performance will do so willingly, because the content will be free to them. In fact, any of the three basic models: I pay, you pay or someone else pays, will work perfectly over-the-top (industry slang for Internet video viewing over a cable modem). About the only thing that wont work is traditional linear programming. Ouch!
At NAB (The National Associations of Broadcasters) show this past April, I was amazed at how many companies were trying to solve 20th century distribution problems with 21st century technology. It was obvious that the industry still thinks that all television is linear and in real time (when most everything you see is pre-recorded).
If Google TV lives up to its promise, it will seamlessly integrate the world of online content with the sociology of “watching television.” This is a powerful, habitual behavior that is demonstrated in every American household for over eight hours each day. Which begs for the question, “Is Google TV two years ahead of its time, or six months ahead of its time?” I guess we’ll know soon enough.