July 19, 2013

Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em – Google Search and the Future of TV

Rumors are circulating again this week that Google continues to pursue a possible OTT video service of its own. Given my recent column about Apple’s new partnership with Time Warner Cable and its apparent shift away from an OTT-as-replacement service,i does it make any more sense for Google to try and go it alone with the same type of service? Surprisingly, it might, which just goes to show what a strange transition we are entering with respect to the future of TV.

I believe there are two primary reasons why it makes sense for Google to offer an OTT service.

Search needs TV.

Google dominates web search by providing a quick way for people to find anything they want. Increasingly, however, what people want online is video; and, not surprisingly, the video they want most is high quality, premium video (i.e., TV programming). This presents a significant challenge to Google because its search does not really work for TV. Oh, sure, you can type in the name of a TV show and get a zillion links to YouTube clips, torrent sites, blog posts, and Wikipedia articles. But can you actually find (and watch) the show itself just by clicking on a search result in Google? Rarely, if ever.

Most premium video is locked up behind pay walls (i.e., Netflix, HBO, or authenticated ‘TV Everywhere’ services) and not available on the public web that is the bread-and-butter of Google’s search application. So Google has a choice. Either it finds a way to bring TV content inside the search box, or it risks training millions of users to go elsewhere to find video. Me thinks Google is much more likely to go with the former than the latter.

TV needs Search.

Television, on the other hand, has its own challenges. As I’ve noted on numerous occasions during the last few months – most recently in TDG’s new report on The Future of TV: A View from 2013 ii — the future of TV is an app. The linear channel model is dying, as new platforms like smartphones and tablets use downloadable apps as the fundamental unit of organization.

A key side effect of this transition is that the traditional time-based grid EPG no longer makes sense as the primary discovery tool for TV. Yes, there is still live content. But you can no longer organize all TV content within a live content paradigm. Love it or hate it, the future of TV discovery is search. And, as discussed above, TV search today is siloed and broken. Viewers have to search for the same show in multiple places (e.g., an operator’s VOD service, a Netflix app, a Hulu app, etc). This is a widely recognized problem and multiple start-ups are trying to provide a single solution capable of searching between and across the various conduits that feed today’s TV (Dijit’s NextGuide is a good example of what can be done). If TV providers want search to work for mainstream viewers, however, they need to work out a solution with Google.

How would a Google TV service help solve both these problems at once? First, a Google TV service could immediately become the default search result for Google Search. Similar to how YouTube functions today for online video clips, users searching for TV shows on Google could expect that many (if not all) shows would be available right from Google itself. Second, by training millions of consumers to use Google as a reliable “go to” destination for TV search, the entire TV ecosystem would benefit. Using a combination of organic search results (SEO) and paid search (Google Ad Words), both TV channels and pay-TV providers would be able to tap into Google’s massive search traffic to acquire viewers for specific TV shows.


I realize that the TV industry has deep suspicions about Google and about losing control over the ability to package and present TV content to the consumer. My work on the future of TV over the past several months has taught me, however, that that horse is already out of the barn. The future of TV is an app, and in the app world the notion of a single TV interface seems archaic. What there will be (if the TV industry is not careful) is rampant confusion and frustration by viewers who cannot find what they want. Search may not be perfect for TV content, but it’s likely the best thing we’ve got. It works and everyone knows how to use it.

Sooner or later, Google and the TV industry are going to have to find a way to live together. Regardless of the number of subscribers it attracts, a Google OTT service would go a long way to ensuring that this happens sooner rather than later.

Joel Espelien is former General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Strategy at PacketVideo, which was acquired by NTT DoCoMo. Joel is now a Senior Analyst for TDG and lives near Seattle, WA.

i “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” https://tdgresearch.com/if-you-cant-beat-em-join-em-time-warner-cable-coming-to-apple-tv/ (accessed July 17, 2013).

ii“The Future of TV: A View from 2013,” https://tdgresearch.com/report/the-future-of-tv-a-view-from-2013/ (accessed July 17, 2013).

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