What's next for Google TV

Date: 2022-01-13T10:30:00+00:00

Location: www.protocol.com

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday, we are taking a look at the future of Google TV and the current CES COVID case count. Also: the joy of ripping CDs!

The future of Google TV

Google’s living room strategy appears to be working: The company revealed at CES last week that there are now 110 million monthly active Android TV devices in the world. Thirty million of these have been added since last May alone, and a growing number are using the company’s new Google TV interface, with TCL revealing at the trade show that it is now selling 10 million TV sets with the Google TV UI a year.

So where does Google go from here? To find out, I recently caught up with Google TV Director of Product Management Rob Caruso.

Google is growing its device footprint. Caruso told me that Google now has 250 device partners worldwide, including 170 operator partners. Seven of the top 10 smart TV OEMs are now making TVs based on Google’s platform, he said.

  • Not all of those devices are necessarily using Google TV, which is technically a launcher, or user interface, sitting atop the company’s Android TV operating system. The majority of the 110 million active devices still use plain old Android TV, or Android TV customized by operators.
  • “Over time, our bet and desire is that the Google TV experience will be the preferred choice for us and our partners that we deploy, but Android TV is still out there and it is still being deployed, and it's obviously still supported,” Caruso told me.
  • T-Mobile was the first operator to launch a Google TV device in December, but there’s a caveat: The telco isn’t actually operating its own pay TV service anymore, so it has less of a need for a custom solution.
  • “Each operator and its customers have different needs,” Caruso said, adding that some operators may choose Google TV going forward, while others may still prefer a custom UI.

The company aims to work more closely with content providers. The idea behind Google TV is as simple as it is compelling: Instead of having people scour each app individually for things to watch, it wants to provide recommendations across multiple services at the home screen level.

  • Universal search and discovery do require buy-in from content providers, which haven’t always played ball. One example: Netflix still doesn’t let people add movies or shows to Google TV’s system-wide watchlist.
  • Caruso actually joined Google from Netflix in August, but he didn’t want to comment on what exactly is going on between the two companies. Instead, he gave me a more general promise: Things will get better.
  • “I hope we'll see some welcome improvements and innovations in the coming months with not just Netflix, but with many partners,” he told me.
  • “You can't force anyone's hand, but the hope is that as we provide features for our users [and] partners, that they all see value, and then it's a flywheel,” he said. Services that have deeper integrations with Google TV have seen an uptick in engagement, according to Caruso.
  • At the same time, Google is still trying to find the right balance between system-wide features and app-level features. “Not everything at the app level necessarily should be brought to the system, whereas everything at the system level shouldn't necessarily be an app-level feature,” Caruso said.

Google TV may get fitness, smart home capabilities and more this year. These days, every TV maker and TV OS provider is trying to figure out what else these giant screens can be used for. Google is exploring a number of possible use cases as well, and Caruso told me that we may see some of them show up on Google TV devices in the coming months.

  • One area Google is exploring is a better integration of smart-home controls, with Caruso pointing to recent changes on Android mobile phones as a possible blueprint.
  • “Fitness is another big area of exploration,” he said. This could include both an integration of Google’s own services and devices (think Google Fit, Fitbit) as well as third-party services.
  • Google is also looking into bringing more video communication to the living room. The company launched its Duo service on Android TV in 2020, and Caruso called out Zoom as a possible candidate for further expansion.
  • The company is actively working on expanding Google TV’s free live TV channels integration, which launched in December through a partnership with Viacom’s Pluto TV.
  • One reason for bringing free live TV to the platform was that it gives people something to watch even if they don’t have any video subscriptions yet. “We want these TVs to wow you right out of the box,” Caruso said.

Caruso didn’t have any firm dates or plans to share for bringing fitness, smart home and other features to Google TV devices, but he signaled that we may not have to wait too long. “All of those areas are things that we're looking at, that we're exploring, and hopefully bringing out at some point later this year,” he said.

— Janko Roettgers

Turns out people got COVID at CES, after all

Well, that was awkward: On Monday, CTA CEO Gary Shapiro, whose organization puts on CES, took a virtual victory lap on Twitter, retweeting a Fox News article that celebrated the in-person show for not turning into a superspreader event.

One day later, Reuters reported that as many as 70 South Korean attendees had tested positive.

Some people have also been tweeting that they tested positive after the show, including fellow tech reporter Yifan Yu. (The CTA did not immediately respond to questions about additional cases.) The fact that we hear about these test results now is no surprise: With omicron spreading rapidly everywhere, it would be a miracle if there were no positive cases among the show’s more than 40,000 attendees.

The real question is how many cases could have been avoided if those tens of thousands of people had participated in a virtual show instead. With contact tracers overwhelmed by the current caseload, we may never get a definitive answer — but the South Korean cluster does suggest that even stringent safety measures can only go so far when it comes to protecting trade show attendees.

— Janko Roettgers

We want to hear from you: Did you get COVID at CES? Let us know!

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In other news

To avoid an import ban, Google is changing how its devices work. Owners of affected smart speakers and streaming devices are not amused.

Magic Leap’s new headset is scheduled to launch by mid-2022. The company is giving a few health-tech startups early access to the device.

DAZN is looking to buy BT Sport for $800 million. The deal would give the sports streaming service access to EPL and the UEFA Champions League matches.

Harlequin launches a steamy subscription service. Subscribers of the romance novel publisher’s new service will get access to physical books, ebooks, movies, games and a shirtless gardener with a checkered past.

Pottermore is about to delete all of its ebooks. The site for all things Harry Potter is pulling the plug on its ebook store. Hogwarts fans have until the end of the month to redownload purchased titles.

Tencent is eyeing a gaming phone maker. The entertainment giant is looking at gaming handset company Black Shark for a potential acquisition. The plan is to task the company with building a virtual reality headset.

Sony will keep the PS4 around. As supply of the new PS5 remains limited, Sony will continue to produce its older console through the end of 2022 to ensure more consumers can play new titles like the upcoming Horizon Forbidden West.

Overwatch’s brand is struggling. Overwatch 2 was indefinitely delayed last fall, and now even the Lego set for the shooter sequel has been put on ice due to concerns from the toy maker over Activision Blizzard’s ongoing sexual discrimination lawsuit.

Bring back the '90s!

How’s this for Throwback Thursday: I’ve been busy lately ripping old CDs to add to my MP3 collection, something I haven’t done for what feels like at least a decade. After tweeting about it, I got a response from none other than Sonos founder John MacFarlane, who simply asked: “Why?”

Good question! I still own a few hundred CDs, and most (albeit not all) of them are available for streaming on Spotify and other music services. Simply adding them to my Spotify collection would be faster, but it doesn’t quite feel the same.

For one thing, these aren’t just random titles I’ve listened to on the radio once. Instead, I used to spend hours scouring music reviews and browsing record store shelves. Now, these CDs are a bit of a self-centered discovery engine: Young me spent his hard-earned cash on this, so there must be something here.

But the physical act of ripping them (and listening to my external drive struggle with those smudges and scratches) also has its own charm. The dream of the '90s is alive in my home office!

And now excuse me, I have to go listen to some Portishead.

— Janko Roettgers

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