Google's been on an acquisition spree lately, buying 10 companies since June. The purchases cover a wide range of categories and clue us in to where the Big G is placing its bets, including mobile (Motorola), social (PostRank), local (Zagat), offers (Dealmap, Zave Networks), and ad serving (Admeld).
Meanwhile, Google's done a fall spring-clean, shutting down 10 products and features. The latest additions to the Google graveyard give us some insight into areas Google is NOT focused on, such as land (that's the opposite of cloud, right?) and man (Aardvark and Image Labeler proved no match for the machine).
So what's Google's next move? I think it will be something in the TV space.
From an ad spending perspective, TV still draws in 2x the dollars of the Internet in the U.S., but the convergence of TV and digital is permeating the 2011 upfronts.
But Google appears undeterred. In a recent keynote delivered at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, Eric Schmidt talked about expanding Google TV to the U.K. and Europe. And Google just launched a TV add-on for the Android SDK.
Nonetheless, I don't think Google has the assets it needs to blow up (on) the big screen.
Here are 10 potential acquisition targets for Google TV:
1. TiVo. I've been calling for Google to buy TiVo since 2008. (In that same column, by the way, I said Google should buy Motorola... thank you very much.) At the time, my rationale for Google's buying TiVo was that the set-top box was the way into people's homes (and hearts and minds) -- but, with Motorola, Google has that covered. I was also thinking TiVo's software for time and location-shifted viewing would be valuable, but Google just bought SageTV, which has software to control media from multiple devices. So what's left with TiVo, you ask? Patents. 210 of them to be exact. The same reason many cite for the Motorola purchase should motivate Google here.
2. Comcast. Even with control of set-top boxes, Google won't get away with allowing viewers to bypass cable operators to view free content online. So why not just buy the pipes? With a market cap of ~$63 billion, this would be far and away Google's biggest acquisition to date, but it comes with a number of nice accessories -- including NBCUniversal and the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers. (I can just picture Google's self-driving Zamboni!)
3. Hulu. Even with set-top boxes and control of the pipes, Google still needs content. Professional content, that is. It's got plenty of that other content via YouTube. Hulu comes with a 2-year content exclusive that would cement Google's place on the screen while it figures out its play around it. And I bet Google could find a better way to monetize than those pesky commercial interruptions.
4. Nextflix. Talk about a company with Google DNA. At Netflix, the algorithm is everything. And the company is a bargain now with its stock trading at about half of its July price, thanks to an ill-advised price hike that sent subscriptions south and apologies north. Out of all the streaming providers I've tried on my TV at home, I've always found the quality of Netflix to be unmatched. That alone makes it worth the price of admission, er... acquisition.
5. Twitter. What does Twitter have to do with TV? Quite simply, I think Twitter is the ultimate ticker. Already a number of networks are streaming tweets at the bottom of the screen as part of awards shows coverage and sporting events. Some even use tweets as breaking news sources.
7. Boxee. Just like TV/VCR combos never really took off (didn't it always seem like one or the other would break and then you were screwed?!?), it's quite possible that embedding Google inside the TV set itself is not the right play. Boxee takes Web content and brings it to your TV without those pesky monthly fees. It's just a box, but it's not a dumb box. Boxee has an elegant way of presenting content through apps for Pandora, Flickr, Facebook, Netflix, etc. Boxee also makes it easy to grab files from your computer. Between its install base and its operating system, Boxee should be attractive to Google.
8. Roku. OK, now I'm just hedging my bets. Here's another set-top box. But these guys have Angry Birds integration! By the way, isn't it funny how we still call them set-top boxes? As if anyone puts things on top of their TVs anymore.
9. Sling Media. You may not realize it, but the Slingbox guys have a whole line of hardware and software designed around the concept of "placeshifting." This aligns perfectly with Google's vision of moving everything to the cloud.
10.Flingo. Forget boxes. Forget cables. Flingo can take any video from your computer and "fling" it to your TV. How? Through partnerships with the TV manufacturers, Flingo software comes pre-loaded so all you have to do is click a button on your browser. Now, imagine that button defaulted onto Chrome. Best of all (from a Googley perspective), Flingo has created an open API for developers to build apps on top of its platform.
It's nearly impossible to predict Google's next move, especially on the M&A front, but I've got my antenna up and methinks (that was for you, Rob!) Google's next acquisition will be televised.