Google Hopes to Rekindle Interest in Google TV With New Interface, Apps & Old Hardware


With Google TV, Google hoped to make a push into its users’ living rooms. Its launch in October 2010, though,  was marred by an overcomplicated interface and a lack of content, as the TV networks and companies like Hulu quickly barred Google TV users from accessing their sites. Now, just about a year later, Google is giving it another try. The hardware – the Logitech Revue and a few Sony TVs – remains the same, but the software got a major update. A new, simpler interface should make using the service easier and the improved search should make finding content a snap. The new Google TV experience, running on top of Android 3.1, also includes an updated YouTube channel and – maybe most importantly – a selection of apps from the Android market.

What remains the same for now, however, is the hardware selection: there’s the $99 Logitech Revue with its unwieldy keyboard remote and a small number of Sony TVs with Google TV built-in (with a remote that’s just as complicated).

Will Google TV Sell This Time Around?

Early reviews of the first generation of Google TV were generally negative (especially after all the major media companies blocked access to their sites) and it never gained any traction in the market. Users who wanted to watch Netflix or Hulu on their TVs mostly opted to buy more straightforward and cheaper devices from manufacturers like Roku or used their Xbox or Playstation to watch Hulu and Netflix. Hulu, by the way, remains absent from the Google TV lineup.

Among the new apps are offerings from AOL, Pandora, CNBC, CNN Money, the Wall Street Journal and others. Individually, none of these will likely drive buyers to Google TV, but having a large ecosystem of video services available may make the hardware an easier sell.

Still Not for Cord Cutters

The area where Google TV beats its competitors is the integration with regular live TV. Indeed, Google itself points out that it thinks this era of TV is “not about replacing broadcast or cable TV; it’s not about replicating what’s on TV to the Web. It’s about bringing millions of new channels to your TV from the next generation of creators, application developers, and networks.” Google clearly doesn’t want its TV initiative to be seen as competition for the current players. Instead, it wants Google TV to be complimentary to the network and cable programming that most people still subscribe to today.

5:57 pm

Thanks to Bad Economy and Cord Cutters, Cable and Satellite TV Providers are now Losing Customers Faster Than Ever


U.S. cable and satellite TV providers lose 380,000 subscribers in Q2. 

For cable and satellite TV providers, the second quarter of 2011 was the single worst quarter in history. They lost more subscribers than ever before and competitive pressure also meant that they had to offer more and more freebies to win subscribers. Overall, Reuters reports, the U.S. pay-TV sector lost 380,000 subscribers last quarter. In the same quarter a year ago, the TV providers lost 160,000. Things are even worse for satellite TV providers, as both Dish and DirecTV reported their “first-ever quarter of combined losses of 109,000 subscribers.”

According to Reuters, these losses shouldn’t come as a surprise. Not only are consumers cutting down on cost by getting ride of their expensive cable subscriptions, but alternatives like Hulu and Netflix now enable customers to bypass their cable and satellite subscriptions altogether at a fraction of the cost of a traditional cable subscription.

It’s worth noting, though, that the most advanced networks, the Verizon’s FiOS and AT&T’s U-Verse actually added some customers. Clearly, then, there is still some demand at the high end of the market.

As for cord cutting, Reuters notes that Netflix added 1.8 million subscribers in the second quarter. While it’s still not clear how many of these are actually cord cutters, there can be little doubt that this phenomenon has contributed to the cable industry’s miserable quarter, though the weak economy surely played a much larger role.

Image credit: Nick J Webb.

9:36 pm

TV Ownership in U.S. Drops for 1st Time in 20 Years: Internet to Blame?


According to the latest estimates from Nielsen, TV ownership in the U.S. dropped from 98.9% to 96.7% over the last year. This is the first time these numbers have dropped since 1990. According to Nielsen, there are two reasons for this drop: 1) lower-income, rural households were not able to afford the necessary equipment for making the transition from analog to digital over-the-air TV and 2) as TV content becomes available on multiple devices, “a small subset of younger, urban consumers are going without paid TV subscriptions.”

Naturally, there will be some debate over the role the Internet plays in this, especially given the fact that Nielsen doesn’t offer any specific numbers to back up either of these assertions. My feeling, though, is that cord cutters who give up their cable subscriptions in favor of going Internet TV-only are only responsible for a small part of this drop in TV ownership and that the current economic climate is to blame for most of the drop.

Once You Cut the Cord, Any Screen Will Do

I would not be surprised, however, if the number of those who forgo TV ownership in favor of just using their 30-inch computer monitors or laptop screens would increase dramatically over the next few years. At the end of the day, a TV is just another screen, after all, and once you’ve cut the cord to your cable provider, you can just as well use any other screen in your household to watch TV content.

Image credit: Flickr user William Hook.

9:24 am

Cord Cutting: It’s Easy if You Try


Cord cutting, that is cancelling your cable or satellite contract in favor of going Internet TV-only, isn’t as hard as it sounds. Chances are, unless you are a real TV addict, you can easily live without cable these days and switch over to an affordable set-top box from Roku or Boxee with a subscription to Hulu Plus and Netflix.

My Experiment in Cord Cutting

While the pundits are still discussing whether cord cutting is real, I decided to see what life without cable would be like and cancelled our cable subscription about two months ago. Since then, I’ve used nothing but a basic Roku box to watch TV shows. Indeed, if you’re already somewhat picky about the shows you watch, cutting the cord turns out to be pretty easy.

Today, for a total of $16 per month, we subscribe to Hulu Plus and the most basic Netflix plan. We still watch virtually all the shows we looked at before and when news breaks, we can watch Al Jazeera’s live stream, which more than makes up for not getting to see the talking heads on CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

Before I cancelled our cable subscription, we were already watching virtually all of our TV from a DVR anyway, so the idea of time-shifting shows was nothing new. Unlike with a DVR, Hulu Plus doesn’t let you fast-forward through ads, though. Given that it only shows one ad at a time (often as short as 15 seconds), however, these interruptions are far more bearable than the 5-minute blocks you find on regular TV.

A few words about my experience with the Roku box: It just works. Its user interface could react a bit faster and its animations could be smoother, but I have not complaints about the video quality (which is the only thing that matter in the end) and thanks to a fast Internet connection, I haven’t run into any issues with degraded video quality or buffering streams yet. The Roku, in my opinion, offers more flexibility than an Apple TV at this point (which doesn’t support Hulu Plus) and is also the cheaper option in the long run.

Missing Shows

There are major holes in the Hulu and Netflix lineup, though. There are barely any CBS shows available, for example, which means that if you are addicted to all 15 franchises of CSI, you are out of luck (same if you want to see 60 Minutes). While many Fox shows are available on Hulu Plus, American Idol is not (but you can still get your reality TV fix thanks to ABC’s Dancing with the Stars). Oddly enough, some shows (like Fox’s Fringe) don’t stream on Hulu Plus but are available for free on Hulu’s free website. Missing in action, too, for the most part, is live sports, though that is rapidly changing and you can now see both NBA and MLB games live on the Roku. I couldn’t care less about watching sports on TV, but at least it’s good to know there are options.

Filling the Holes

Of course, just because you broke off your relationship with your friendly neighborhood cable TV provider doesn’t mean you can’t get free, over-the-air TV anymore, so most of these holes are easily plugged by a simple antenna (though you would actually have to sit through the ads and be in front of your TV at the right time – just like people used to do 10 years ago…).

You Can Do It if You Try – But Know What You’re Getting Into

That said, though, cutting the cord is obviously not an option if you just need to see Oprah, Dr. Phil and every show on the Food Network. It is easily an option, though, if your TV diet mostly consists of watching the Daily Show and a few select programs that are available on Hulu and Netflix streaming. Indeed, I’ve watched uncounted hours of interesting documentaries on Netflix instead of vegging out in front of yet another mindless show on Home and Garden TV.

My advice for those who want to cut the cord: do a test run before you cancel your cable subscription. If you can switch over without the constant urge to turn on your cable box again, you’re probably good to go.

11:30 am

The Internet Invades the Living Room: Report Says 7% of U.S. Households Will Cut the Cord by 2014


The Internet is slowly making its way into our living rooms. Even if your TV itself isn’t directly connected to the Net, chances are there is a game console, Blu-ray player, Apple TV or Roku box attached to it that can bring streaming video from services like Netflix, Hulu Vudu or iTunes directly to your TV. Indeed, according to research firm SNL Kagan (as reported by USA Today), 14% of TVs are now connected to the Internet in some form or another. SNL Kagan expects this number to climb up to 38% in 2014.

At this point, however, only about 2% of households with Internet-connected TVs have “cut the cord” and use the Internet exclusively to watch “professionally produced programming.”

There has been a lot of discussion in the tech and TV industry about whether “cord cutting” – that is dropping your cable or satellite service in favor of going Internet-only – is a real phenomenon or just a figment of some early adopters’ and tech journalists’ imagination. According to SNL Kagan’s predictions, though, the next few years will see a steady growth in Internet-only households (7% in 2014).

Even cable industry insiders – who long thought that this was just a fringe movement – now think that cord-cutting is real and a potential threat to their industry. In an interview with USA Today, Verizon’s vice president for consumer strategy and planning told the paper that his company has “been looking at this issue for the better part of a year, and our perspective has pretty much done a 180 to a belief now that pay-TV  ‘cord cutting’ will happen.”

It’s Real – But not for Everyone (Yet)

Clearly, though, cord cutting – even though it is a very real phenomenon – is still not for everyone. Not having access to most live sports events makes it a non-starter for a lot of people right now – though this is slowly changing as the major sports franchises in the U.S. catch up to this trend and see it as a potential new revenue stream. It’s also current nearly impossible to get access to live news and local news through devices like the Roku box or your Xbox. Chances are, though, that this will change in the near future. There are no technical reasons for keeping this content off these devices – just the politics of TV networks and cable operators and sooner or later, even these companies will realize that they can’t stop this trend anymore.

Image Credit: William Hook

12:19 pm