At the 1964 World’s Fair, AT&T introduced a new product that combined the telephone and television into a surefire hit for businesses and consumers. Three million Picturephones were predicted to be in use by the 1980’s. Instead of Picturephones, we now remember the 80’s by a different cultural failure: disco music.
AT&T is estimated to have spent up to $500 million developing the Picturephone. Why wouldn’t you want to see the person to whom you were speaking? If facial expressions weren’t important, why did those thoughtful Internet pioneers invent all of those emoticons to express what words alone couldn’t do? AT&T failed partially because they charged $21 a minute for the bandwidth hungry picture phone in a pre-fiber, barely satellite communications age. Today we can do it for free via iChat or Skype — but even free hasn’t made consumers want to be heard and be seen.
Last week Google announced a new service which will join two commonly used communications technologies. Google TV will marry TV with search to improve the consumer experience and, in Google’s words, “change the future of television.” Anyone who has ever tried to use a remote control to text search a TV interactive program guide can see the possibilities of searching “all of your channels, recorded shows, YouTube and other Websites” in one place.
Long before the industry anointed “convergence” as the holy grail of media synergy, AT&T learned that consumers can be a fickle bunch. Google, a dominant communications company of the 21st century, might want to take a history lesson from AT&T, which was the largest communications company of the 20th century.
Google and their technology partners hope to sell new TVs (from Sony) or new HDMI-connectible set top boxes (from Logitech) to merge your desktop and set top digital words. Google TV Product Lead Rishi Chandra says Google TV will let viewers use the voice search feature of Android phones to query Google TV. NewTeeVee.com provided a play-by-play of the new service as demoed at the Google I/O conference. First, Chandra searched for live TV content and scheduled TV programming to program a DVR.
Then he searched for House, and Google TV returned search results Hulu, Fox.com and Amazon. Clicking on the Amazon search result led to the website of Amazon’s VOD service. The search bar can also be used to directly input urls and search saved bookmarks. “It’s just as easy to go to any site on the web as it is to go to any channel on your television,” says Chandra.
Google’s business model is to make money by bringing search to TV and extending the reach of advertising through Adwords. In an interview on the Fox Business Channel, Google CEO Eric Schmidt says that because Google TV seamlessly combines TV and computers, “we know a lot more about what people are doing and can make more relevant television advertising — which should be worth alot of money.”
Will Google succeed where AT&T once failed and Apple TV and Microsoft’s Media Center have stalled? There’s only one way to end an article that talks about almost 50 years of TV and technology: Stay tuned.