Google Thinks Out Of The Box, The Set-Top Box, That Is

Two of the most significant developments for the TV industry this week took place not on Broadcast Row, or even Madison Avenue, but out west in Silicon Valley: The disclosure that Google plans to spin off the set-top box division of its Motorola Mobility acquisition to focus on its new “Google Play” play; and Apple’s overhaul of Apple TV. Both will help accelerate the migration of TV viewing from coax, satellites and over-the-air to their operating systems. In the case of Google Play, its Google’s push to finally turn the Android Marketplace into the kind of one-stop entertainment marketplace that Apple has dominated to date with its iTunes platform. In the case of Apple, it’s just a refinement of its Apple TV platform that will essentially turn its users TV experience into a giant iPad, albeit an iTunes-connected iPad.

It you think these are just more in a litany of “over-the-top” television forays, then you haven’t been tracking the penetration of Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems, and the fact that most consumers are becoming conditions to accessing content via these platforms, and it’s only a matter of time, money, and copyrights before they become full-fledged TV viewing experiences.



The Google story is particularly interesting, because it helps answer a lot of questions on the minds of TV industry executives ever since it bought the Motorola division, which is also one of the biggest suppliers of digital set-top devices to the cable TV industry. Some had feared that Google might try and leverage that technology to muscle its way into the TV industry’s infrastructure, something other Silicon Valley players have largely failed at. Instead, Google seems to be saying, the future of television isn’t the set-top box, but a personal media interface like, well, Android.

While it’s still unclear what Google ultimately plans to do with Motorola’s handset business, the real story is Play, which will leverage Android’s dominant mobile device penetration to wean personal media downloaders off of iTunes.

Apple’s news, meanwhile, was more about enhancing its users interface experience, making Apple TV look and act more like the functionality of its current hit, the iPad, which also made news this week with a new, high-definition version that will likely enhance TV viewing on the hand-held experience.

Net/net: Google is banking on the ability and ubiquity of its Android operating system – not a hardware play like Motorola set-top boxes – to coopt TV viewers, while Apple is focusing on its spiffy hardware. Whether it is because of form or function, both will continue to win consumers over, and when enough of them come, well you know, the TV industry will have to follow.

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