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Google TV's Second Act

5/16/2012 6:18 PM

Google still believes it can wrap its massive Internet arms around TV — even after consumers spurned its freshman effort as clunky and not very useful.

Two years after the company launched an ambitious strategy to meld Web search, online video and apps with traditional television, Google TV has failed to take off. Indeed, one of Google’s initial marquee hardware partners, Logitech, abandoned its Google TV set-top last year because of dismal sales, telling Wall Street it burned $100 million on the effort.

But now Google and its hardware partners are ready to bring out HDTVs and set-tops running version 2.0 of the software. And this time, the Internet TV platform has made huge strides in usability and features, said vice president of product management Mario Queiroz, who’s heading up the Google TV project.

“I’m still convinced we are a ways from the perfect user experience, but simplifying the user interface is a big step forward,” Queiroz said. “It looked like a computer interface in version 1, and we brought more of a smartphone paradigm to Google TV.”

LG’s G2 Google TV(Note: I’m interviewing Queiroz at the Cable Show next week as part of the “Television without Borders: Navigating the New Consumer Video Landscape” session, followed by Microsoft’s Gerard Kunkel, Tuesday from 3:30-4:30 p.m.)

While Google expects to generate ad revenue from Internet searches and YouTube ads viewed on Google TV, it’s still fully relying users keep paying for TV.

“We are not building a cord-cutting product,” Queiroz said. “Our product depends on the content from pay television.”

Cable operators that Google has approached range from wary and skeptical, to eager to adopt the Internet TV platform, Queiroz said. “One of the things which is really beneficial for MSOs is that consumers want more and more content, not just their linear TV,” he said. “Google TV could run on any of the set-tops the MSOs are deploying.”

Google still has a relationship with Dish Network, although the satellite TV operator previously had been selling the now-discontinued Logitech set-top to subscribers.

Google is betting that 2.0 products will fare much better.

Next week, LG Electronics is expected to start selling two models of Google TV televisions, with the current version’s overhauled interface, access to the Google Play store — which now has more than 150 apps optimized for television — and a more “TV-like” YouTube experience.

And LG’s G2-series TVs also address the ease-of-use problem: The Internet-connected TVs will include a “Magic Remote,” which includes not only a QWERTY keyboard but also will respond to gesture-based commands, similar to Nintendo’s Wii remote, and includes voice recognition for searching. The CE maker’s 47-inch Google TV will carry a list price of $1,700, while the 55-inch model is $2,300.

LG’s introduction of Google TVs will be followed by Vizio’s launch of a Google TV-based set-top box as well as a Sony set-top and Blu-ray player powered by the software. Samsung Electronics has committed to building a Google TV product, as well.

“It’s become a lot easier for the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] to build products for Google TV,” Queiroz said.

Over all, “we learned a ton” from the first generation of Google TV, Queiroz said. For example, he said, users expect more of a browsing and recommendation experience rather than having to think about something to search for.

“We’ve found that bringing the Web and new forms of entertainment into the living room is much more of a marathon than a sprint,” he said.

Queiroz joined Google in 2005. Prior to heading the Google TV project, he led Android product management as well as international product development across 20 R&D centers.

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