Did Google TV Just Eat Boxee and Roku?
As I watched the Google TV promotional trailer yesterday my first impression was that I had seen this somewhere before. In fact, I can pull in most of the TV shows, movies and video programming that live on the Web via the Boxee software that I baked into AppleTV. Soon Boxee plans to issue its own "Boxee Box" that connects directly into the home theater system. Similarly, my Roku box, which is said to have sold half a million or more units, also pulls in select programming to my TV in the shape of apps. Both companies have APIs that let publishers write apps to the interface for easy inclusion of content. While much has been made of the search interface of the Google TV (these guys never saw a problem that a query box shouldn't solve) it is the content browsing interface that looks and feels much like the current streaming media software and hardware solutions, even Apple TV.
So I had to wonder, what are those guys at Boxee and Roku thinking right now? Is this another case where Google looks as if is coming in to own a market simply by benefit of being Google? Lest we forget, Google's track record for entering new markets and "eating the competition" is spotty at best. I recall that PayPal was supposed to be dead by now at the hands of Google Checkout. Shall we take a walk over to the digital download and video rental area of Google and see whether Amazon, Netflix or Apple have anything to worry about yet? And the Web-to-TV category is one that has left a lot of well-hyped companies on the roadside.
So do the early-in streaming media hardware and software providers have reason to worry? Well, some of it has to do with price points and scale. We don't know what a Google TV box will cost with that hunk of Intel hardware in it. Presumably they are coming at the market with an open platform that invites low-end solutions. The Roku box is pretty cheap at $99 and up) and has a half million unit head start. A lot of its content is nicely sculpted premium channels like Netflix, UFC, MLB and movie services. On Boxee, the software feels a bit more curated that the search-driven Google model.
Obviously, Google TV is still a ways off, and none of us had hands on experience with it yet. But it seems to me that some TV viewers will not be that comfortable with a search box approach to their lean-back medium. I understand the impulse for the geekocracy to gush over Google. But this company always brings with it a singular sensibility: more is better. Index it all, search it all. Mass, scale -- all the world's knowledge. That is the ambition and it is every present. Granted, I have only seen the video and slides from the Google I/O presentation, but getting search results on my TV just isn't as elegant as some of what I already have on these other boxes. And before you start salivating over having the Android platform on your desktop and letting loose the creative juices of developers, take a look at the Android Marketplace on a phone. It is a cluttered mess with wildly uneven quality. Open platforms have a down side.
I asked Boxee's VP of Marketing Andrew Kippen about all of this. He echoed and expanded on a Tweet that CEO Avner Ronen posted earlier. Their stand is that Google TV and Boxee are complementary not competitive. "We think that it would be great to see an open OS such as Android gain market share in the living room. It would enable users to download Boxee on their TV (we will be building an Android-based App) and start using it without the hassle of connecting their computer to the TV." Kippen seemed to share with me the sense that Google has a hammer (namely Chrome and a search engine) so everything looks like a nail. "We have somewhat of a different view of browsing the web on TV. While it was a big part of the Google demo we believe browsing the web as-is makes more sense on laptops and mobile devices (due to their personal nature, the screen size and the input device) than it does on TV."
It seems to me that the strengths of what Boxee and Roku have done already is make the Web feel more like TV. I can't tell yet whether Google is really looking to make my TV more like the Web -- which I think would be a big mistake.
How much is Google interested in bringing the Web to TV as opposed to bringing the right video to the TV?