Biggest Flop of the Fall TV Season

The biggest flop of the new fall TV season wasn’t Fox’s Lone Star or ABC’s My Generation.
It’s Google TV.

The engineers at the search goliath appear to have pulled off the double whammy of disappointing the technorati and alienating the broadcast networks—two constituencies crucial to getting Google TV off the ground.

Currently, NBC, CBS, ABC and Hulu are blocking full-length episodes from being accessed via the platform. Per insiders, those nets are unlikely to budge anytime soon, in part because of Google’s arrogant yet naïve attitude when it comes to the network TV business.

Google execs, who declined comment,  irked several representatives from the big three networks from the start by dismissing their concerns about protecting the lucrative network business model—and dependent relationships with affiliates and cable providers. One official compared Google’s stance to the quote often attributed to Henry Ford: “People can have the Model T in any color—so long as it’s black.”

“The ecosystem in TV pays for the content,” said one media executive. “I’m not sure Google gets that. They are approaching this as if it’s an academic MBA project.”

Even though the broadcast networks provide access to full-length episodes of their top prime-time shows on their own sites and, in the case of ABC and NBC, on Hulu, they clearly view streaming video on a TV differently. Beside the obvious metrics/sales challenges (Nielsen ratings versus online video views), Web video is far less lucrative for the networks.

Plus, the networks don’t like the idea of giving up control of their site experiences. Nor are they inclined to boost Google. “Why help them grow their business?” asked one exec. “It’s incumbent on networks to control user interface and their own distribution,” said Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia, the media marketing company. “There is too much money at stake.”

For its part, Google’s official stance is that it doesn’t see network TV as being vital to Google TV’s success—since the product’s reason for being is to bring the whole Web to TV, not just shows.

Many don’t buy that positioning. “The reason people want the Web on TV is Hulu,” said Nilay Patel, managing editor, Engadget. “It’s a great site, but nobody wants to look at Engadget on a TV.” Patel is one of several tech luminaries to deliver harsh reviews of Google TV, calling it “incomplete” and “disappointing.”

Others were even rougher. MSNBC.com’s Technology called Google TV “nowhere near ready for your viewing enjoyment.” A major complaint among bloggers is that Google TV is hard to use for a dubious payoff. “It’s very complicated, and there was 35 minutes of set-up time,” said Patel.  Plus, one of Google TV’s long-term

promises is apps; yet the dearth of ready-made apps makes it feel “half baked,” argued Gizmodo editor Jason Chen.

Still some are cautiously optimistic about Google TV’s appeal. Jen Soch, svp activation director advanced TV at MediaVest, theorized that younger demos may see a Web/TV hybrid as more of a natural. “It depends on how you grew up,” she said. “For teenagers, this could be all about short-form video.”

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