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Google “don’t be evil” and Android-TV will be the biggest news of 2011

Jamie Beach of IPTV News got me talking about Google and the TV back in February 2009. It always made sense that Google would somehow crack the TV Market but I said from the outset in May 2010, that Google TV wasn’t the right way to start.

I recently blogged that Intel’s withdrawal from the connected-TV space was good news for STB makers – I could have updated the post when Adobe subsequently announced that they would withdraw from TV altogether, but instead, this update comes to contradict my prediction that “Long live the STB”.

The Connected TV jungle out there could for example lead to the absurdity of some content being available on Samsung TVs but not on LG, or the other way round. I admire the way some of these set-makers have boldly gone where no man has been before and built up complete ecosystems. Had I been in their shoes, I wouldn’t have been able to do any better, Samsung’s efforts are particularly impressive.

Q: So why the all the fuss now then?

A: That jungle might now get urbanized.

By announcing that Android Market Place was also a TV App Market Place during the OTT TV World Summit in London last week (see twitter feed here), Google has finally acknowledged that even they can’t manage the complexity of merging the Web and the TV single-handedly. I would put all my bets on Android as an underlying OS technology being a long term success in the TV space. But Google TV as a UI and consumer application may not have such a bright future. It took several years to start getting Android right on Smartphones. Good user experience is harder to get right on a TV screen than on a mobile device. Also Google will not be following in Apple’s footsteps with something to benchmark against. If Google can keep Android open and Larry Page keeps his “don’t be evil” mantra going, this end of 2011 will be the pivotal moment when everything coalesces in our industry for the TV revolution to get into to full speed with breakthrough is in new services, new business models and new usage.

STB makers might still fit into this future vision even if the Connected TV finally takes off under Android. A smaller piece of a larger cake ain’t that bad after all.

So in the end it’s all about standardization. In this case it’s one imposed by one player rather than a standards body. If this scenario plays out and Android becomes central to the future of TV, it will be interesting to see how other big guns react.

The set makers will have to join the bandwagon and give up their hopes of getting a slice of the service pie. Perhaps the more advanced like Samsung will salvage something from all those marketing dollars spent, at east for their image. But I still have some questions: what is the XBox going to become in this context? And how will Apple react?

Microsoft, the Evil empire of the 90s, doesn’t have anything to lose in the TV space. From Redmond, Media Room, the companies flagship IPTV platform can’t be much more significant than Apple TV is in Cupertino, some call these initiatives “hobbies”. Apple has a strong influence on much of the OTT market through its HLS protocol widely used for Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR) streaming. With a “don’t be Evil” mantra Apple would continue the move underway from HLS to the MPEG standardized enhancement called DASH. Somehow I doubt they will go through with the transformation, even if they were one of its instigators, but I’d be happy for the industry’s sake, to be proven wrong.

PS: Keep an eye on the IPTV News site for some in depth analysis of Google / Android / TV coming soon, I’ll be collaborating with Jamie there.

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