As I Was Saying

Google's Schmidt: 'Internet is Future of TV'

8/29/2011 2:43 PM

Google chairman Eric Schmidt, at his showcase presentation to the Edinburgh International TV Festival, neither allayed broadcasters’ fears about Google’s growing role in global media operations, or spelled out specific plans for the arsenal of media properties the company has stockpiled.

Rather, Schmidt argued that “We’re not your enemy and we want to help” and later he repeated, “We’re not your foe. We should focus on these vast opportunities” for cross-platform collaboration.

He cited the opportunities that technology provides. Returning repeatedly during his hour-long lecture to the value of integrating TV and Web services, Schmidt proclaimed, “You ignore the Internet at your own peril. The Internet is the future of television because it is what people want.”

“It makes TV more personal, more participative, more pertinent,” Schmidt said. “The Internet changes how we watch.” He called the second wave of interactivity, now underway, as “more real to me this time.” He insisted that interactivity is “not happening by a red button” (the interactive interface on British TV remote controls). “It’s happening on your computer. This time it’s social.”

Schmidt, in a riff seeking to stave off program producers’ claims that Google supports video piracy, argued that Google has been defending copyrighted material. He made light of Viacom’s $1 billion lawsuit against Google subsidiary YouTube for carrying MTV video clips. Schmidt also touted the hundreds of millions of dollars that Google is investing in content production, trying to make those funds seem as supportive of traditional TV production not competitive with it.

The Google chairman made no reference to the previous week’s announcement that Google will acquire Motorola Mobility, although in conversations after the speech, Schmidt is reported to have said it is “too early” to discuss how or if Motorola’s tools will be integrated into Google’s service portfolio.

“I don’t expect television to ever switch to on-demand. I sense that the default mode will shift to the DVR,” he said in his speech. Schmidt noted that Google is conducting research to determine how viewers are using cross-platform viewing, Schmidt said, telescoping the findings as “three ways to watch TV: mobile, local and social.

He expects that soon the “typical Internet user” will be outside with their mobile phone or tablet. In a speech that was defensive of the technology industry and critical of the British regulatory system and business process, Schmidt offered rare glimpses of Google’s vision for the global TV industry. He casually mentioned that Google TV would be launched in Europe in early 2012, with the U.K. as an early market. Schmidt provided no details, although he acknowledged that Google would clean up the flaws that have made the system such a dud so far in the U.S.

As the first non-broadcaster to deliver the Edinburgh Festival’s MacTaggart Lecture in its 36-year history, Schmidt offered predictable visions of Google’s role in the media business. In an effort breed camaraderie, he emphasized that Google has already been “investing in deep relationships with [UK] Channels 4 and 5″ on features such as “catch-up” viewing services.

“We seek to support the TV industry by offering technology,” he said. Schmidt cited “projects that will enhance TV,” such as systems the enable program navigation and discovery plus “adding a social to TV [that will actually increase television viewership.” He cited the “Hangout” feature of Google+Plus that engages viewers to connect with each other while individually viewing the same show.

Schmidt also emphasized the value of on-demand viewing.
“Taken to the ultimate, it would be a perfect TV channel, always relevant … always worth your time,” he said. “We’ve already had a glimpse of this from Netflix.”

The executive saved his toughest rhetoric for the UK regulators and the British business process.
“TV is going global,” he said. “To compete on the global stage your companies need to the freedom” to sell programs worldwide. Schmidt especially chided European broadcasters for not thinking broadly enough. “You need to bring art and science back together. You need to get better at growing bigger companies…not just breeding small companies.”
“Thank you for your innovation, your brilliant ideas, but you’re not taking advantage of them on the world stage,” Schmidt said. “Listen to the entrepreneurs, not the lawyers, if you want to thrive.”

Continuing his encouragement of new ideas for TV programming, Schmidt noted that in an on-demand environment, writers can “craft more complex stories,” since they don’t have to include “reminders” about what happened in previous episodes. He also recommended the Internet’s capability for “talent-spotting,’ referring to the creative individuals who have emerged from YouTube and other user-generated content. He pointed out that more video is uploaded in one month than all the TV broadcast networks have aired in 60 years - although he acknowledged the user-content is not always the same quality as network programs.

Such comparisons don’t sit well with established media executives. Yet Schmidt’s aggressive message came through: the Silicon Valley juggernaut into traditional media will continue, with or without the collaboration of legacy providers.

The full text of Schmidt’s lecture is available here.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC in Bethesda, MD, and a long-time interactive TV enthusiast. Reach him at GArlen@ArlenCom.com