August 19, 2010, 7:53 AM — The other day I was talking about how the war for the living room was going to be about space rather than cost. It turns out I may have been premature. Before that war happens at all another is going to have to take place: one between device manufacturers and content providers.
Logitech's Google TV box, the Revue, is due out this fall but it would appear content deals to support Google TV are still very much up in the air. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Google has been in talks with the big networks about getting their web-based content onto Google TV, and the networks aren't biting. The story says the networks don't think Google has a business model that works for them, and they're afraid of cannibalizing their cable TV sales. The WSJ is pretty vague on their sources, citing people "familiar with" this situation numerous times, so we need to take this info with a grain of salt.
Still, this should be a warning flag to those of us interested in Google TV. The networks can prevent Google TV devices from accessing their web content, and without web content Google TV is more or less a channel guide that can also browse web pages. Sure, savvy users could probably circumvent these blocks by using a proxy server, but if you're willing to go that far, you're probably using a home theater PC and don't need Google TV in the first place. Anyway, the point is that unless solid, long-term deals are in place, the value of Google TV could decrease over time if the networks decide they're losing revenue.
But what about the Boxee Box? One would think if Google doesn't have the clout to get this web-based content onto Google TV, then Boxee doesn't have a prayer of doing so, either. That's pure speculation on my part; maybe Boxee will be niche enough that the networks don't feel threatened and so won't block the Box. Still, I'm suddenly less willing to be an early adopter for either of these devices. I want to know that I'll be able to get the content I want, at least for a few years, before I invest cash.
While all this was being discussed, Verizon was showing off an iPad App that delivered streaming FiOS TV to Apple's tablet. GigaOm has a nice report on the demo they saw. FiOS also says they'll have Video on Demand apps available for mobile devices in the near future. Now to be clear, this wasn't web content, it was the same content you'd see via your FiOS STB or CableCARD, but it shows that the cable (and fiber) providers themselves are thinking about new ways to deliver content. As long as they're thinking about getting into this business they'll be doing what they can to keep Google and Boxee out. They can't directly block access to web content of course (well, not without creating a huge uproar that would draw the FCC's ire) but they can try to pressure the networks not to cooperate.
I just think it's going to be far too easy for the consumer to get stuck between the networks, the providers, and the device makers. None of us wants to spend a couple hundred dollars on a streaming content device that ends up doing nothing more interesting than delivering grainy YouTube videos to our big-screen TVs. Let's hope that by the time Google TV and Boxee Boxes are on sale, Google and Boxee can show us firm agreements with the networks, so we'll all know exactly what we'll be getting, and for how long.