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By Angela Hey

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Will Smart TVs Succeed At Last? Google Hopes So With Android TV

Uploaded: Jul 1, 2014
Do you have time to watch TV or do you spend time on smart phones, tablets and laptops? TV survives, because it provides a shared experience and is simple to use.

Google I/O, Google's developer conference held last week in San Francisco, emphasized Android (TM) software featuring new standards and designs that give users consistency across watches, smartphones, tablets, computers, cars and TVs. At Google I/O, Chris Mckillop, Google's Engineering Manager for Android TV claimed the average American watches more than 30 hours of TV a week and 5 billion hours of TV are watched each day throughout the world.

Google is trying to make Android software a TV industry standard, just as it has taken market leadership in smartphones. In 2013, Gartner estimates that Android had 78% smartphone market share, compared to 16% for Apple's iOS. Gartner estimates a billion Android smartphones will be shipped in 2014. Google estimates that 120 million smart TVs are shipped annually. Compared with smartphone sales, smart TV sales are small.

There are many ways to make an old TV smart. I've plugged Nintendo's Wii, Apple's iPhone, Sony's smart DVD players and Amazon's Kindle into a TV to share videos. It's been a hard fight for manufacturers to replace the set-top boxes offered by cable and satellite vendors.

In 2007, Apple launched Apple TV, a box that worked with a computer. In 2008, a computer was no longer needed. In 2010, Google TV was featured in some Sony TVs and DVD players. Google TV runs on LG 47G2 and 55G2 TVs, as well as ASUS CUBE, Hisense Pulse, Netgear's NeoTV, Sony NSZ-GS7 Internet Player and Vizio Co-Star streaming media boxes that attach to a TV.

In 2013, Google launched the small $35 Chromecast device that plugs into an HDMI port and connects to the Internet using WiFi. You send videos to Google Cast devices like Chromecast using a smart phone, tablet or laptop.

With more than a billion active users, a million apps and 50 billion app downloads, Google can leverage its Google Play (TM) store to sell TV apps. Apps and games on Android TV won't just be in your television, they may come through your set top box, your video recorder, game console or other device. In its attempt to simplify the smart TV experience, Google has standards for TV remotes and game controllers. The standard remote will be simple ? with arrows, no keyboard. Unlike tablets, TVs don't have touch screens, so users will operate Android TVs by pointing arrows at boxes on the screen, which might show streaming services like Netflix or YouTube, or they may show movie titles.

Expect to see more two screen apps for smartphones and TVs working together. Games are treated separately and Google will give game console manufacturers strong competition, as they mandate Android TV manufacturers must have good graphics. Google will help vendors sell on TV. For example, consumers might be reminded to order a pizza from their TV. Google can recommend videos for you, just like Amazon does.

As an alternative to Android TV, you could use an Amazon Fire TV, a $99 box that connects to a TV and pay $99 annually for Amazon Prime to access movies and TV programs. Google is testing their Android TV software with an HDHomeRun box from Livermore's SiliconDust that lets you stream video across your home WiFi network. Developers can create software on Google's test ADT-1 hardware that they gave to attendees interested in developing for TV at Google I/O.

Smart TV efforts have yet to take the industry by storm. Android TV promises to be aesthetically more pleasing and richer for developers than the older Google TV. TVs are now powerful enough to run games and networks are starting to stream video reliably. Google has the clout to persuade major TV manufacturers to run their software and redefine what TV watching means.

Android and Google Play are trademarks of Google Inc. Amazon, Kindle, Fire and all related logos are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Other trademarks belong to their respective companies.

The Android robot is reproduced or modified from work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. The Google Play store icon is created by Google.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Jul 1, 2014 at 9:45 pm

The problem isn't the technology.

The content providers are the bottleneck for smart TV/streaming video adoption.

Let's say I don't care about anything but live sports (let's simplify things and say ESPN) and the San Francisco Giants. I can't get Giants TV broadcasts on a non-TV device around here: market blackout rules preclude that possibility. There are apparently some devious methods (VPNs, etc.) to get around this limitation, but the fact remains that could shell out $120 per season for an MLB.TV subscription and not be able to watch live games of my local market teams.

A more immediate and topical example of content licensing? How about the World Cup soccer tournament, currently underway in Brazil?

Do you want to watch it in English on a tablet in USA? Well you need the WatchESPN app and you need to provide login credentials demonstrating that you have a cable TV/DSL subscription level that will allow for live video streaming.

The kicker is that you can download the Univision app and watch all the games live, but in Spanish. This demonstrates that it is content licensing, not the technology that is the bottleneck.

Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of another community,
on Jul 1, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

Jay - right on, thank you very much for augmenting my article.

Remember when iTunes started that telcos thought they would make money from smartphones with ringtones and people buying things on their phone bill. Then Steve Jobs came along and cut deals with the publishers.

I am sure Google is hoping to do the same as they see smart TVs at the same stage as when the iPhone was launched. Whether they can succeed this time in getting content distribution agreements is still very uncertain.

I am surprised that in a country that prides itself on free enterprise and love of competition that exclusive deals for sports reporting are even legal. A long time ago the capital required to set up a cable franchise, sports broadcast or cellphone network was huge. It still costs a bit, but much less, so it's time to encourage competition for the incumbents.

I too have suffered through live sports. For example, NBC Olympics which has talking heads, adverts and a bias towards sports where the US wins, badly needs competition - whether from the crowd or industry leaders.

The last world cup, I did indeed watch Univision in Spanish over the air. Just this evening, prior to your message, I was looking on ABC (and Univision) for the World Cup, as I thought ABC was an alternative broadcaster to ESPN. Nothing showed up on ABC's local affiliate's schedule.

As for the America's Cup, it was possible by plugging an iPhone into a TV to see the race - albeit not the same camera angles as those on paid programs.

I believe that online services will only get more fragmented as service providers try to control their content distribution. Meanwhile, there will be entrepreneurs finding new ways to reach consumers with videos and apps.

Google has been careful to include Digital Rights Management in its architecture to protect content.

Google has also been subject to scrutiny as to how much it copies materials when it searches. 25 million URLs have requested removal from Google's search requests in the last month - Web Link

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 10:21 am

The America's Cup broadcast is a not a good example.

Typically, a network purchases the rights to a sport/sporting event from the sport's organization (like FOX paying the NFL for the rights to broadcast the Super Bowl in the USA, or NBC buying Summer Olympic rights from the IOC). The network tries to recoup their costs by selling advertising.

This was not the case for the last America's Cup. Basically the AC racing event authority purchased airtime which is why much of the racing ended up on over-the-air COZI-TV, the obscure NBC digital sub-channel on NBC owned-and-operated stations. Essentially US broadcasts of the America's Cup were a Larry Ellison-sponsored infomercial.

Did you notice curious selection of advertisers? Well, they were all team or event sponsors (like Nespresso). The network made no attempt at selling any advertising since the airtime was already paid for.

ABC is not automatically a broadcaster for ESPN events despite that both networks are holdings of the Walt Disney Company. The broadcast agreements are specific to what can be broadcast, whether it be terrestrial, on cable, on satellite, over the Internet, and in which languages. A smaller niche network like Univision pays FIFA less than ESPN to carry the World Cup, but they aren't allowed to broadcast in English.

Television networks are very wary of companies like Apple and Google. They saw how well Steve Jobs wrangled control from the record labels and vowed not to let it happen in the television industry. The TV rights are far more complicated since they often deal with multiple broadcasters, delivery methods, and large, powerful, rich sports leagues hosting live events, and local broadcasters with rights to local events. Selling a song is trivially simple compared to broadcasting a live soccer game from Rio.

Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of another community,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 12:04 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

Jay - thanks for the insights. How do you think the TV broadcast market will evolve? Which players will win?

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Hi Angela,

Sorry, I'm rather clueless on how the broadcast TV market will evolve. I cut the cord back around 2008 and haven't looked back.

I don't watch much television apart from live sports and the occasional PBS program; my sports viewing is quite limited since I rely on broadcast OTA programming.

I'm guessing that some content will head off to cable TV land (like baseball and Monday Night Football have done) and will slowly re-emerge via some sort of Internet streaming platform, although the latter will happen glacially.

I am completely clueless about other popular shows.

Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of another community,
on Jul 2, 2014 at 10:01 pm

I think you are at the vanguard of what many others will do - cut the cord. We cancelled our satellite TV some years ago.

I don't think Internet streaming platforms will happen glacially. I do think Google and Amazon will cause cable companies and telcos to rethink their businesses.

Posted by Jay Park, a resident of Jackson Park,
on Jul 3, 2014 at 9:20 am

I'm not as optimistic about cable companies and telcos changing quickly.

The term "convergence" (referring to converging technologies in the living room) has been around since the late Nineties, around the time when TiVo debuted, but we still haven't seen it fifteen years later.

The biggest issue I can see is that the cable companies are also content providers, specifically Comcast. They own NBCUniversal as well as various regional sports networks such as CSN Bay Area and CSN California. The latter two are the broadcast homes to both NorCal MLB teams, both NBA teams, the SJ Sharks, Quakes, Sabercats, Cal Bears, the Pac-12 and other west coast collegiate athletic conferences.

If you want to watch any of that content, you pretty much need a cable or satellite TV subscription. I would love a la carte sports programming via the Internet, but I doubt it will happen within my lifetime.

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of another community,
on Jul 6, 2014 at 1:00 pm

Having the best up to date technology is only worthwhile if you have the smartest up to date tv companies.

When abroad and watching things like the Olympics, the World Cup or even the latest news, European broadcasting companies are streets ahead of what is available here. Latest news loops, split broadcasting so that more sports are available to be watched live, and systems like the BBC iplayer, make what we have here very secondrate.

You may think that the whole world may be interested in watching the Superbowl live, but there is another whole world who are interested in watching what goes on elsewhere in the world just as important. Of course team USA in the World Cup is popular for most Americans, but there are other teams playing too as well as Wimbledon, Formula 1, Tour de France etc. Sport is now a 24 hour multi broadcast interest, and being able to access it live is technologically possible, if only the tv channels wanted to serve the public rather than their advertisers.

Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of another community,
on Jul 8, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Angela Hey is a registered user.

PA Resident - as a Brit who comes from Yorkshire where 5 million turned out to see the Tour de France I am well aware that not everyone wants to watch baseball and American football. In fact, for the Tour De France Grand Depart in the UK the local papers had videos, photos and tweets that gave more information (as noted on my Facebook stream) than the heavily edited NBC Live - which does give highlights.

NBC seems more interested in talking heads than watching athletes in action.

Now for the World Cup on ESPN.com I have to be content with diagrams of the play.

The World is Flat and now is the time to allow broadcasters to compete internationally for their audiences - after all there are many global brands that could support advertising. I realize the BBC gets funded by a license but internationally they could be let loose.

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