Four Reasons Google Needed to Be in TV

Last Updated May 21, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

It's somehow fitting that while traditional TV wrapped up its upfront shows today on the east coast, Google (GOOG) -- along with partners including Sony, Intel, Adobe, Dish Network and Best Buy -- was unveiling Google TV on the west. While Google certainly isn't the first to dream of converging TV and the Web into one experience, it may so far hold the most promise -- if for no other reason than it syncs up well with contemporary behavior.

Back when Microsoft was getting all starry-eyed about WebTV, most of us were too tethered to our wired desktops, situated far from the living room TV, to watch both screens simultaneously. Google TV, via specially-built TVs and set-top boxes, will not only allow this, but also bring unified entertainment search to both experiences (see frame from demo at right). Users will be able to sift through all available options to find a TV show or video clip that they'd like to watch, regardless of source.

But, as much as Google loves to tout what a wonderful idea this is for consumers (see Google TV's demo video embedded above), it needed to get into the TV business in a bigger way as soon as possible. Here are four reasons:

  1. To build an entertainment guide for the 21st century. Since many cable operators pay lip service to search and interactive channel guides -- and do a horrendous job even at paying lip service -- someone was going to come along and improve the experience. As entertainment moves onto more and more platforms, it was a market opportunity waiting to happen, that Google would be remiss to pass over.
  2. To make Android ubiquitous. In its OS arms race with Apple (AAPL), it needs to build out the Android platform on as many different types of devices as possible. The ultimate plan is for Google to be as deeply embedded into day-to-day life as possible. As one example of how this works, if you have a Google account and you buy a smartphone that runs off the Android platform, Google services, like Google Calendar, work seamlessly, automatically syncing up with each other. Other services, like mobile Gmail, are clearly optimized for the Android platform. Exempting the TV screen from that vision would be a mistake. The Android app market, in fact, will run off the TV platform.
  3. To create another monetization strategy for YouTube. YouTube has come along way recently on the monetization front, from having more robust advertising opportunities to launching limited pay-per-view. By finding a way into the living room, Google broadens the distribution of its coveted, but traditionally hard to monetize, video site.
  4. And last, but not least, to jump-start Google TV Ads. A few years back, Google had its sights set on bringing a Google-like ad experience to print ads, radio and television. While it has abandoned the first two, it has held onto the latter, even if it has hardly set the ad world on fire. The service, which operates off the AdWords platform, partly depends on set-top box data to target ads (Dish Network is a partner). Google TV puts the long-arm of Google data into the living room, and may jump-start Google TV Ads beyond the limited number of partners that use it now.
At least for Google, Google TV is an idea whose time has come.