Google TV: Following in TiVo's Footsteps

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It’s the Yet Another Box problem, and it doesn’t bode well for Google TV’s chances of reaching millions of users anytime soon (see Google to Cable: We Come in Peace and Google Sinks Teeth Into TV With Dish And Others).

Consider the similarities between TiVo’s early days and Google TV:

* A new entrant delivers a feature unavailable from current cable/satellite TV providers (TiVo = DVR; Google = Web apps/search/video);

* The new device is external to the cable/satellite set-top box and controls it using an IR blaster (i.e., it’s a non-integrated kludge and requires space in the entertainment center);

* The technorati understand it — and quickly figure out they want it — but most TV viewers don’t want the extra cost and hassle of hooking it up.

For DVRs, adoption took off when the feature was integrated into provider set-tops. And although the final chapter on TiVo has yet to be written, look what has happened to the DVR company once the providers co-opted the disruptive technology (see TiVo Loses 96,000 Subscribers In Q1).

Will Google have any better success?

Actually, I’d argue TiVo had (and has) a much stronger value proposition than Google TV. DVRs can pause live TV, record shows automatically — wow! That’s still perhaps the killer interactive TV application, though the on-screen guide is surely right up there.

Meanwhile, here’s the Google TV pitch: Find recent episodes of House on Amazon.com. Or call up Steve Nash’s stats on TV while watching a Lakers-Suns playoff game? Accessing Netflix is interesting but that’s already available… through a TiVo, among other devices.

Call me old-fashioned, but that doesn’t tickle my Wow Meter, as one of my former editors used to say, considering that I’ll have to plunk down probably a couple hundred bucks for a Google TV box, jury-rig the thing to my cable box and teach my kids a new way to use the TV.

I know, I know, there are differences between Google TV and TiVo. Google is promising to deliver a platform, not a product. It has lined up some heavy hitters to seed the market (Sony, Dish Network, Best Buy, Intel, Logitech, Adobe). The Android operating system is “free” and “open” to developers, so there are cool apps that could be written for Google TV that nobody has thought of yet.

But the bottom line is this: People mainly want to watch TV on their TVs. Beyond that, the question is whether Google TV will tickle enough Wow Meters to take root before cable, satellite and telco TV providers figure out how to cherry-pick the best ideas.

Verizon’s FiOS TV already offers YouTube on TV, plus Twitter and Facebook, and could feasibly introduce a full Flash-compatible Web browser on the set-top at some point. (FiOS even has its own “open” widget-developer’s program.) Cablevision is experimenting with a way to deliver Web and PC content directly to the TV.

The Google TV project is ambitious, but before we decide it’s the next biggest thing since the DVR, the company will need to prove it’s capable of delivering an experience unavailable any other way — and that the experience is valuable enough that regular people (not just the 400 Google and Dish employees who tested the prototype) will jump through the requisite hoops to get it.

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