The promise of interactive television is chronically unfulfilled by the protracted, walled-garden offerings of cable and Telco service providers and electronics manufacturers.
What exists today -- in uncoordinated fits and starts -- is just a hint of what interactive TV can be.
Canoe Ventures struggles to launch, broadcast and cable networks bundle their online products into the upfront, and TiVo and Netflix work their latest on-demand iterations. Yahoo has a TV widget and Verizon FiOS offers Twitter and Facebook on its set-top box. Even Google brokers some TV advertising and is involved in Dish Network's interactive trials.
Perhaps the best measure of existing TV interactivity is the different flavors of March Madness and the Olympics we can order for our smartphones.
If Google becomes an interactive infrastructure with its brand of PC and smartphone functionality for television, then all bets are off for doing things the casually conventional way. With Sony and Intel as initial partners, a more encompassing generation of Google TV is expected to roll out this year, although there has been no formal announcement.
The eventual adoption of Google's open Android and advertising systems and search engine across digital TV everywhere could be swift; Google already is the online standard. Google has the clout to compete with the proprietary program navigation and ad pricing and placement of various rivals: Comcast and other cable operators, Verizon and other telecom companies, and Apple and other electronics manufacturers.
Google's basket of interactive services embedded or uploaded to TV -- like other digital devices -- could be advantageous to advertisers seeking more efficient connections to target consumers with all the analytics and support it now provides. Viewers could more broadly search, find and integrate what they want on the Web and on TV -- from movies and TV programs to Twitter, Skype, Facebook and e-shopping.
Clearly, Google's participation, however foreboding it might appear, would be a catalyst for making interactive TV what it should be for advertisers and consumers on the ground still monopolized by big media. The content producers and distributors that have been a hindrance to Apple TV --and are now playing copyright hardball with Apple's new iPad -- will be forced to come around. That is, if and when Google and Apple interfaces become more pervasive in the video world.
Indeed, the latest Google TV speculation is an ironic antithesis to the Google-Viacom copyright spat playing out in Federal court. In that case, YouTube is accused of unlawfully posting Viacom content on its site. Google eventually could seek to beat content providers at their own game simply by being in their faces everywhere.
The prospect of Google TV also provides an interesting counterpoint to Google's anticipated withdrawal from China over irreconcilable censorship and hacking issues. Of course, nothing would offset the loss of future revenues from the world's largest Internet market and its 400 million users.
Google would aggressively pursue the $45 billion in cable network ad revenues and $30 billion in broadcast network and TV station ad dollars (according to Ad Age) to feed the advertising beast that is its dominant source of income.
Merely opening up its Android operating system to software and app developers that can create just for television would blow open a new world of at-home interactivity -- that could have stunning universal implications for all media. Google could raise the bar on interactive expectations and functionality for viewers, advertisers and content providers in a way that forces the hand of the big media now in charge.
Anyone thinking about betting against Google's TV moves needn't look any further than the rapid transformation of smartphones and other mobile devices. It has what consumers want -- even in their living rooms.