Three of the biggest networks have given the thumbs-down to Google TV. ABC, CBS and NBC have all decided to restrict access to shows such as The Office, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Desperate Housewives, offering only promo episodes for viewing. Google is remaining sanguine about the situation, merely commenting: "Google TV enables access to all the Web content you already get today on your phone and PC, but it is ultimately the content owners' choice to restrict their fans from accessing their content on the platform."
The row is basically over revenue. The TV giants doubt that Google's entertainment service will enable their shows to generate the big bucks that they did, say, five years ago. Disney, which owns ABC, is said to be unsatisfied with Google's plan to keep pirated versions of its shows at bay, although Google points out that it gives the networks the ability to delete unauthorized results from Google TV's search results. So far, however, the networks are keeping shtumm on the reasons for the impasse.
Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land did a little tour of the blocked sites this morning, and reports that the networks are implying that the videos are unviewable for technical reasons, rather than a licensing one. (Anyone interested in getting Google TV could do worse than read his in-depth review of the service.)
Google, however, has an iron in the fire in the form of Hulu, with whom it is currently said to be negotiating a deal to bring the Hulu Plus Subscription Service to Google TV. This would circumnavigate the acronyms, as shows from ABC, Fox and NBC are all available on Hulu. And Hulu, said yesterday to be considering slashing the monthly price of the service by 50% (to $4.95), could well be interested in a tie-up.
Logitech set-top boxes, Sony TVs and the like have only available for consumers since last week, so it remains to be seen just how popular Google TV will be. The service, which was the first of the Internet-TV hybrids, was announced in May of this year at the I/O conference, and, as well as providing a link to your TV and the Internet, acts as a platform for apps for sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Steve Jobs, whose palm-sized Apple TV box is now on sale too, must be chortling. Thanks to the giant that is iTunes—and, possibly, his Disney connection (he has a seat on the board of the Magic Kingdom)—Apple has already inked a deal with ABC, Fox and BBC Worldwide to provide 99¢ shows to Apple TV subscribers.
As ever, Google seems to be fighting a war on two fronts here: firstly with the networks who, it has to be said, are dealing with the online TV issue in the same way that the music business dealt with the thorny issue of digital music a decade ago. And secondly, with Apple, its first direct competitor on the Internet TV front, and currently in pole position in the digital music marketplace.
Ultimately, the mano-a-mano between Google and the networks will sort itself out, and it will go Google's way—mainly because of the increasing dependence of consumers on their computer screens rather than the TV screen. But it's the ongoing war with Apple that is the most interesting to watch. Steve Jobs has been dismissive of Google TV (although he was so dismissive of Google TV that you would barely know he was being dismissive). And Google's forays into hardware have, so far, not been as successful as their online offerings. The spat with the networks is just a distraction. The real action is taking place somewhere in California between Cupertino and Mountain View.