Google to Cable: We Come in Peace

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Is Google TV a cable operator’s friend or foe?

The Internet behemoth would have MSOs believe that it has come to praise TV, not to bury it. Even though the Google TV project wants to erase the service provider’s guide and, you could argue, dilute its VOD and programming lineup with links to YouTube clips, Amazon, Netflix and other services (see Google Sinks Teeth Into TV With Dish And Others).

Dean Gilbert, vice president of product management at Google who is closely involved with the Google TV project, argues that the company’s plans don’t take anything away from TV — it leaves everything in place, and wraps advanced Web search and browsing capabilities around it.

“We were not trying to build something that was for the over-the-top crowd. There are a lot of people who are happy receiving their programming from a cable or satellite provider. So we said, ‘Why don’t we enhance the experience?’” Gilbert said.

Of course, the idea of bringing the Web to the TV isn’t new. Remember Yahoo’s Widget Channel? Intel was a hopeful partner on that project, too (with Comcast in the mix as well). But Yahoo’s Connected TV initiative hasn’t grown into much more than a sidelight — a gentle diversion.

Meanwhile, Apple TV — which that company’s execs have described as a hobby — ignores traditional television altogether.

Google, by contrast, wants to be central to TV watching.

Gilbert says that because the Google TV software stack is free to license, cable operators could use it themselves to tap into (potentially) thousands of Android developers who might be cooking up cool little widgets and Web apps.

“The cable set-top boxes sitting in people’s bedrooms are a 1980s technology,” he says. “The industry can innovate so much faster on an open platform…. Just look at what’s happened in the mobile space [with Android].”

Gilbert, who apparently will be one of the chief Google emissaries to the cable industry, got his start in the cable business in 1979. At the time he worked for Amos Hostetter at Continental Cablevision and later for Paragon Cable (acquired by Time Warner Cable). He served as general manager of @Home Networks from 1996 to 1999.

“I want the industry to understand what we’re doing it, and why it’s friendly to the industry,” Gilbert says.

Google’s business model with the TV project is simply to drive more Web usage, according to Gilbert: more search means more AdWords, more integration with TV means more YouTube videos viewed. And Google will offer its own Android apps for the TV at some point.

In short, the Google TV effort is not a zero-sum proposition, Gilbert says. “We have no problem sharing the Web,” he says. “If Comcast wants to offer an Xfinity app on Google TV, that’s great.”

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