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Google TV makes some media hookups

Twitter, Netflix and Napster hop into bed with the platform

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We said at the launch of Google TV that without content it meant nothing: but of course Google has been quietly working away on content, and has come up this week with the early fruits of its labour.

What Google TV really needs (and sorry to be a broken record here) is an end to that legal action between Viacom and YouTube, so that it can get its hands on some of the top TV content. But opening up its service for applications, some delivered initially on a home screen and then later opening up to Android Market, means that companies which currently are NOT talking to Google can still make their content available on Google TV.

The news this week is that Google TV will now come pre-loaded with Netflix, Twitter, CNBC, Pandora, Napster, NBA Game Time, Amazon Video On Demand and Gallery. Netflix is a no-brainer, and Amazon is really the only other online media supplier to rival Netflix, except that it is offering purchased and rented video rather than subscription video which has the appearance of being free (it is free to existing DVD rental customers). In addition to this, Turner Broadcasting has optimised its most popular websites for viewing on Google TV, including TBS, TNT, CNN, the Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. NBC Universal will now put CNBC Real-Time, an application which lets you to track favorite stocks and news feeds, onto Google TV as well.

HBO has also said it will have ready a few hundred hours of content through HBO Go subscriptions and the National Basketball Association has built an application called Game Time that lets viewers follow game scores in real-time and view highlights. Google also said it has news sites such as The New York Times and USA Today and music sites like Vevo, Pandora and Napster. They've also thrown in Twitter, as well as online networks such as blip.tv.

This is a fine start, but there are many omissions - so this is NOT like TV. There is no content from Disney‘s ABC, Viacom‘s Paramount or Fox, the biggest producers of leading US TV series, and there is not much content from cable networks either: although just like iPad applications, that may be a slow build as these are attracted through writing their own apps.

Android Market may be the way in for companies who don‘t want to go into business overtly with Google and their applications may follow, giving as little away as possible to Google in revenue and advertising terms and keeping their destiny in their own hands. We have to admit when we first saw Google TV we were nonplussed - it was never going to fly on its own. But on the other hand we felt a little like that when Android first came out.

Google is not really taking anything out of the equation from content providers except where it charges a fee for an app, and then Google takes 30 per cent as a transaction fee. Instead it is stealing the thunder of the Intel Yahoo! attack on putting applications on a TV set, launched back in 2008, and effectively replacing Yahoo in that equation. Yahoo had the disadvantage of a) not having an operating system to bring to the party and b) not having an App Store either - both in hindsight fatal flaws in getting anyone to adopt the system.

A unified application platform for TVs – instead of one for each TV maker, such as Samsung is building (which will end up working alongside Android and then, we suspect, capitulating to it) or one for each TV operator – makes a lot of sense. Microsoft wrote the definitive operating system for a PC, why shouldn‘t someone write the definitive operating system for a TV set? But in doing that it has to take the internet as a whole and guarantee to play pretty much what‘s out there, and leave it to you to decide if you want it on your TV. Apple TV doesn‘t do that, but instead focuses on key professional assets only and is in effect a "walled video garden" of web offerings that have been formatted for use on TVs.

In the end we think that although Google TV doesn‘t really do very much right now in the way of delivering video services, this is going to be a lot less scary to potential video asset owners than cutting deals with Apple on the iPad and effectively giving up control. Google says that over the next few weeks, more sites will volunteer launch information and as that list grows we‘ll find out if Google TV has the same kind of appeal that Android has developed. One report has it that Google is in talks to offer Hulu's paid-subscription service on Google TV.

Hulu is owned by NBC, Disney and News Corp and even if Hulu simply launched an app on the device, that would be a backdoor route to bring a much more convincing chunk of content to it. As an aside, Logitech has confirmed its earlier estimates and says it still plans on shipping at least 500,000 units of its Revue STB with Google TV to retailers before the end of the year. The latest rumour about the box is that shipments from Taiwan are already arriving in the US in anticipation of an early to mid-October release.

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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