Google TV and Apple TV - What's In A Name? A Lot, Actually!

Google TV and Apple TV have at least one common problem.  Their naming convention is ill conceived.  What's in a name you say? "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," etc.? Actually, nomenclature matters a lot when you're marketing to consumers because it sets an expectation, and that is the first step to defining consumer experience. 

Calling something "TV" brings decades of connotations and broad interpretations to the target audience.  It is understandable for a geeky company like Google to call its product a TV, but for a branding and marketing juggernaut like Apple, it seems out of character.  Even Microsoft, with its hit-and-miss marketing, has stayed away from using TV in the nomenclature for its Media Room, maybe because it has been in the traditional TV business and deliberately or otherwise recognizes the difference I am talking about.

Why is not such a great idea to call these new genre of products that connect to television screens a "TV"?  For one, it is most important to know what industry you're in. The term TV is firmly anchored in the consumer electronics, or CE, industry.  I really don't think you want to be in the CE industry if you can avoid it.  As one of my CEOs during my days in CE used to say, what customers want in CE is one more feature for one less dollar. 

Right off the bat, therein lies the problem with Google TV -- it is magnitudes more expensive than a bunch of other boxes that can get me all kinds of Internet content on my TV.  A lot of scrappy companies are fighting for this space by adding one more feature for one less dollar.  That is not the business of either Google or Apple, however.  Interestingly, when AppleTV dropped its price from $229 to $99, it drove serious costs and functionality out of the product in the process. 

Given Apple's cache in commanding pricing power for all its other product categories, CE seems to be a horse of a different color that Apple does not understand.  Brand equity is like cash in the bank.  You either earn it or spend it.  With every other product, Apple earns it in spades and that reflects in the company's market capitalization.  With Apple TV, I would argue that Apple is spending it.  Some will argue that Apple is the best-known CE brand today, thanks to the iPod.  My comment to that is - just don't let Apple find out.  We can go back in time and look at the likes of Dell's, Gateway's, and even Microsoft's (not so successful) forays into CE as further examples.

Companies that have managed to buck the CE pricing spiral succeeded by redefining categories, and often creating new ones.  Think B&O, Bose, and, to a great extent, the Sony of decades ago.  Most companies like these nurtured their categories for years before they paid off.  Many years were spent refining products and technologies before the first unit ever came off the assembly line.  Fortunately, products used to also have shelf lives measured in years, not in quarters as is the case today. 

Even today TV sets have a replacement cycle of six to eight years.  Compare that to 18-24 months for mobile phones, and three years for PCs and laptops.   iPad2 succeeded the original iPad within barely 11 months.

Google TV, Apple TV and other products being brought to harness whatever the Internet has to offer on the biggest screen in the house do not have the luxury to gestate for years till they are just right.  They will never actually be just right, but rather will follow a fast-evolving trajectory.  That's because content, usability and consumer expectations are changing at Internet speed.  What these companies are going after is almost a greenfield opportunity that will forever change our perception of TV, but calling it "TV" is not conducive to marketing success, at least not today.

Let's look at a handful of products that have shaped or are shaping consumer behavior related to TV watching:  TiVO (it could have been called Trick Play TV, or, er, Replay TV); Roku (good for them, it's called Roku Player, not Roku TV); VoD (Video on Demand, not "TV on Demand").  Feel free to expand on this list. When you're building a platform for a new paradigm, you set the wrong expectation by not delineating it from something users understand and know well -- and something they have strong preconceived notions about, based on years, maybe decades, of experience.

3 comments about "Google TV and Apple TV - What's In A Name? A Lot, Actually!".
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  1. John Willkie from EtherGuide Systems, May 9, 2011 at 12:11 p.m.


    You forgot to mention the biggest problem with Google TV and Apple TV, the aspect that makes them even more absurd to use the "TV" appellation: you can't actually watch TV (broadcast/cable/satellite) on them. Video delivered over the Internet is still video. It ain't TV. TiVO and Replay TV didn't make that mistake.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 9, 2011 at 2:23 p.m.

    It's a TV screen. Due to broadcast monopolies and their delivery systems, TVs are still TVs. Still, TVs are as we know TVs. 10 years from now..........Google TV Tool or Apple TV Tool is more descriptive which needs a more creative word than tool.

  3. Sam Vasisht from Independent, May 10, 2011 at 10:45 a.m.

    Agree with your observation John. I was focusing on the shortcomings through 'commission'. You're pointing out a shortcoming through 'omission'.

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