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BW Businessworld

On-Air Web

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Let us begin with a story about a story, which happened at the Streaming Media West conference early this month in Los Angeles. Rishi Chandra, product lead of Google TV, told this story during his keynote address. Chandra was interviewed recently on television and his wife made a recording of the programme. When she asked their son whether he wanted to watch his father on television, she got the answer that he had already done so. It turned out that he was talking about his YouTube station that was full of home videos about them.

Chandra's son obviously made no distinction between online video and television. In fact, he was unaware of the difference. Chandra had narrated this story to buttress his main point, that the distinction between online video and cable or satellite television was blurring fast. You could take this interpretation with a pinch of salt, but there is no doubt that the two video streams will converge on a living room device some time in the future. Google TV is the first of them. It is definitely not the last.

Google TV brings browsing and search capabilities for the first time to a television set. There have been other devices that brought online video to television — Boxee, a freeware software application, and Apple TV, a digital media receiver manufactured and sold by IT behemoth Apple — but Google TV is unlike anyone of them. Boxee lets you watch on your television shows that are available on the Internet. Apple TV lets you stream watch photos and stream music and videos on your television. Both are boxes with limited capability that can be connected to your television. Apple TV is primarily meant for consuming iTunes and Netflix videos, but it also lets you watch YouTube videos. Boxee has a browser unlike Apple TV, and is good enough to watch most videos on the Internet (iTunes is conspicuous by its absence).

Google TV goes well beyond these two and other attempts to marry the Internet with television. It is a full-fledged television and not a box, although you can use that option if you do not want to change your television. Sony has just launched the first Google TV in the US. Samsung could be the next major manufacturer to launch the product. The Sony Internet TV provides a small screen where users can surf or tweet as they watch television programmes. It also lets you watch Internet video on your television as if it is another channel.

The most important feature of the Google TV is search. It is not surprising that Google wants to bring its flagship product to the idiot box. Search capability on a television takes it to a different dimension. As Schmidt said at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco this week, Google has introduced some intelligence to a dumb box. It obviously is the way to go in the future, but it is a bumpy road ahead.

Many broadcasters in the US have blocked people from watching videos from their websites on Google TV. This includes companies such as ABC and Fox. Neither can you search their programmes. Of course, you can watch television broadcasts from these channels on your Google TV. Broadcasters want a share of the advertisement revenue when people watch Internet video. You could expect Google to sort this out over the next year or two. It would also refine the product over the next few years. By the time it arrives in India, the developed world may already have taken to Internet television in a big way.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 29-11-2010)