Google TV Shows How Far Web Video Has Come

The just-announced Google TV operating system, which is set to launch on Sony (SNE) TVs and Blu-ray players, as well as a Logitech (LOGI) broadband set-top box, has been labeled a game-changer. For all the talk about how revolutionary the Google TV concept could be, there are still some serious questions yet to be answered.

Beyond the purely technical questions of which video software Google (GOOG) plans to use, or whether Hulu will be viewable on Google TV, there are more important questions—including whether people even want what Google is selling.

Is Google confused about how consumers want to use their TVs? Do people want the whole Internet through their connected devices, or is a "walled garden" of select content enough?

Altimeter Group analyst Michael Gartenberg on the blog Engadget drew a comparison between Google TV and the WebTV technology that Microsoft bought and tried to sell to consumers in the late '90s. "Consumers don't want the whole Internet on their TVs. Consumers simply don't want Gmail or Twitter or the 'whole' Web on the TV. There's a fundamental difference between what Google is offering and what consumers want—and, importantly, what they're willing pay for."

Niche Product?

To a certain extent, Gartenberg has a point—what Google TV is selling isn't that different from a "long line of niche products" that have come before. The majority of today's Web-connected-TV makers have been careful to ensure that the services they offer are well-selected and integrated with the TV's look and feel. That is, the interface for Netflix (NFLX) on a connected TV doesn't mimic the subscription rental firm's Web interface, but reflects the type of browsing on an interactive TV programming guide.

However, there's an important point that Gartenberg is missing: Not only is consumer behavior changing, but so is the type of experience people find on the Web, particularly in the case of video. The Internet is no longer the text-heavy, link-laden place it was back in the late '90s. Services like Hulu and YouTube, which mimic the TV experience, have taken over consumer mind share.

That's not to say consumers will want to do everything they do on a PC on the TV. But having the option to do so isn't the worst thing in the world.

In the same way that Apple's (AAPL) iPad has gained consumer acceptance where other tablet devices failed, Google TV may be coming to market at a time when users might actually be ready for such a product.

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