Google updates TV system despite lukewarm welcome

Google is making another push into online TV, hoping to tap into a vast new market despite consumers’ lukewarm reaction to one of its initial offerings.

Google updates TV system despite lukewarm welcome

Google unveiled a revamped version of its TV service and announced plans to create about 100 online “channels” of original video programing for its YouTube website.

The YouTube channels will feature videos created though partnerships with various media organisations, and the partnerships involve more than $100 million in upfront payments by Google to the various partners, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The new 2.0 version of Google TV provides new tools for recommending movies, TV programmes and online videos to TV viewers, and makes it easier for software developers to create new apps for the television screen.

Google will automatically upgrade the software on existing Sony Google TV devices that are already in consumers’ homes, with software updates to Logitech devices coming shortly thereafter. New Google TV devices, from manufacturers including Samsung and Vizio, are expected next year.

There’s a lot of thirst for using the web in the living room

Google has built Google TV on the new “Honeycomb” version of its Android operating system. The company has also redesigned the look of Google TV, replacing the cluttered, computer-like screen full of options with a more minimalist strip of graphical icons that sits at the bottom of the TV screen.

Google’s Android Market, the central clearinghouse for the smartphone and tablet apps designed to run on the Android operating system, will now be available on Google TV. That means software developers that make smartphone applications, such as Rovio’s Angry Birds, will easily be able to offer versions that run on Google TV.

“There’s a lot of thirst for using the web in the living room,” said Google Product Management VP Mario Queiroz, who is leading the Google TV initiative.

But in a sign of the many challenges that have frustrated Google’s ambitions to conquer the living room, as well as those of other tech companies including Apple, Queiroz described Google TV as a “long-term bet”.

“I don’t know what exact month this will take off,” he told Reuters during a demonstration of the new product at Google’s headquarters. “I do think there’s been a lot of progress over the past year and this next year there will be a lot more progress.”

Google does not disclose how many users it has for Google TV, which was launched with great fanfare last year. But some analysts say that version 1.0 of the product has been a flop.

“The fire they were trying to start never even got a spark,” said Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey.

The $299 price for the least-expensive Google TV device was too high, said McQuivey. Logitech has since reduced the price of its device to $100.

And the fact that many of the television networks, perhaps sensing a threat from Google, blocked the web-based versions of their shows from being accessible on Google TV devices created confusion among consumers, he said.

Motorola factor

One advantage that Google could have in the TV market is its planned $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility, which makes cable television set-top boxes as well as mobile phones.

“If I were Google, the first thing I would do is put (the Google TV software) into the next round of Motorola set-top boxes and say (to the cable providers) ‘We’ll give you half-off for these things, if you put Google TV in,'” said McQuivey of Forrester Research.

Google’s Queiroz declined to discuss how Motorola might fit into the Google TV plans other than to note that Google has said it plans to run Motorola as a separate business after the acquisition closes.

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