Google TV Reality Check: Rerun or Innovation?

Google is teaming up with hardware and content partners to deliver Google TV. Will you be tuning in?

Will Google TV be must see TV or just another rerun mimicking past attempts to wed the TV with Internet? We'll find out more Wednesday when Logitech shows off its Revue Internet-TV device that streams high-definition, on-demand video from the Web to your HDTV via a wireless or wired network. The following week Sony will debut a HDTV with Google TV baked into the set itself.

Consider yourself warned. Over the next several weeks Google and its hardware and content partners will hype Google TV as if it were promoting celebrity mud wrestling during sweep week on network TV.

What We Know About Google TV

So far, Google is whipping up an appropriate amount of excitement. Earlier this week it announced content providers including the NBA, HBO, CNBC, Twitter, TBS, TNT, CNN, Amazon Video on Demand and Netflix. We also know Google TV can be used to search and browse the Web; use apps built for the Android-based system; merge Internet and TV content onto one screen; and set up a quick launch menu of your favorite TV channels, Google TV apps and Websites.

But here is the $20k question: will consumers bite? History tells us no. Starting back 10 years ago with AOL's failed interactive TV device, AOL TV, there has been a decade of ambitious failures from big and small tech companies.

At least in its infancy the marriage of TVs and the Web have been met with the static. Consumers don't want to mess with the snake pit of wires behind their TV and aren't convinced surfing the Web from there couch is something they're interested in doing. All the while device makers couldn't simplify their products enough for mass appeal - be it setting up the hardware or connecting people to content online.

Yahoo's TV Struggles

Fast forward to 2009. Almost 18 months ago, Google's search rival Yahoo launched Yahoo Connected TV widgets that let you view Internet content on your television.

Similar to Google TV, Yahoo's widgets include content from Amazon video on demand, CBS, Showtime, EBay, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and even Blockbuster (at least for now). Several manufacturers also partner Yahoo's widgets with Netflix streaming for an even closer resemblance to Google TV. Unlike Google TV's full-screen experience, however, Yahoo's TV widgets take up only part of your TV display except when displaying photos or video.

Widgets By The Numbers

After 18 months of development, Yahoo's TV catalog features a little more than 65 different widgets, more than 7000 registered widget developers and partnerships with only 5 of the 10 major television manufacturers worldwide.

The end result is about 4 million Yahoo-connected TVs in use worldwide, according to Yahoo. Those aren't exactly staggering adoption numbers when you consider there are nearly 115 million TV-watching households in the United States alone, according to a recent report by the Nielsen Company.

From TV People Want More TV

Part of the reason for such low adoption rates may be that people just want more TV from their TV and not much else. A recent blog post by Forrester Research said that while Internet-connected TVs may be popular among manufacturers "consumers are struggling to understand the benefits." People "seem unable to imagine doing anything with these TVs other than watching more TV," Forrester said.

Forrester surveyed nearly 4000 adults in the United States and found that the top uses people want for their Internet-connected TVs includes Netflix, full-length television episodes, movie rentals and accessing photos, music and video stored on their home computers. Facebook, Twitter and Farmville don't appear to be attracting users to Internet-connected TVs.

Hope For The Future

There is, however, some hope for the future of Google TV and its competitors. There are only two million Internet-connected TVs in the U.S. today, according to The New York Times . But Forrester says major electronics retailers in the U.S. have already committed to selling only Internet-connected TVs by 2011. By 2015, the market research firm predicts, one-third of U.S. homes will have Internet-connected TVs. So Internet-connected TVs and set-top boxes are clearly here to stay, but it's unclear if people are willing to use them.

Connect with Ian Paul ( @ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

This story, "Google TV Reality Check: Rerun or Innovation?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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