I Want My NTV (Yeah, That’s Nexus TV)


A brand-new subscription news site called The Information published a story this week saying Google would launch a product within the next seven months called Nexus TV.

I believe and hope the story is true. Because I’m rooting for Google in the TV space. Here’s why.

The Nexus TV story spawned hundreds of other stories all reporting the same thing and has been accepted as fact by the public. But it’s important to remember that all the stories can be traced back to a single anonymous source cultivated by journalist Amir Efrati. The reporter is, however, highly credible, as he is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who specialized in Google scoops.

Whether this particular story is true or false has no bearing on the overwhelming likelihood that Google is working on new products around TV and the living room.

Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google was working on a device called Android TV. That report was based on a closed-door introduction of the project by the then-Android chief Andy Rubin, who has since been reassigned to raise a Google robot army.

The details reported on Android TV and Nexus TV are roughly compatible. If both reports are accurate, they appear to describe a single product with new branding — changed from Android to Nexus.

These reports tell us that the Android or Nexus TV project is a set-top box that does not involve direct deals with networks for live TV. The box, of course, would be controllable with an Android phone.

The earlier report talked about an Xbox One or Kinect style motion sensor, while the newer report claims that it will be controllable with a touchpad remote control.

Bloomberg also published reports in January that LG was working on a Nexus-branded TV.

Google has been hammering away at the TV problem since 2010 when it introduced the Google TV product.

Google TV is a smart TV platform based on a custom version of Android designed to be built into TVs — to be part of the TV’s functionality and interface. The project has been something of a flop because while Google successfully convinced major TV makers to add Google TV (Sony, Logitech, LG, Hisense, Asus, NetGear, etc.), users and developers have responded with a collective “meh!”

And then there was Google’s ill-fated Nexus Q, a spherical ball of fail that could have been developed into a better product, but may have been killed off simply because the brand was tarnished by really bad press. When google announced it at Google I/O in 2012, its key features were Google Play integration and the ability for Android phone users to connect to any Nexus Q and stream their own movies and other content, if given permission by the owner. It also suffered from a lack of support for Neflix and other content services.

Google finally hit one out of the park in July of this year with its Chromecast dongle, which streams content via WiFi to TVs, all controlled by a Chrome browser plug-in or smartphone app.

The appeal of Chromecast is that it’s cheap and easy. Sure, the functionality is limited. But at $35, what’s the downside? You just plug it into one of your TV’s HDMI ports, install the extension or app and forget about it. When you’ve got something on the Internet you want to share on the TV, you just select the option and it’s thrown up on the screen.

Chromecast is great, and can compete with other Internet streaming boxes or “sticks.” Internet streaming from YouTube, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, Netflix and the rest is great. But what’s missing, of course, is live TV. If you want to watch “event television” like the Superbowl or the Oscars — or if you want to watch a cable show like The Walking Dead at the time when it’s broadcast — Chromecast and the other streaming solutions usually can’t help you.

Multiple industry players have tried to line up agreements with the various content providers to bake live TV right in to their set-top box solutions with success rates ranging from partial (Apple) to zero (Intel). The gatekeepers are scared of what’s outside and they’re keeping the gate closed, for the most part.

The false assumption seems to be that all it will take is for someone with enough market power, deep pockets or negotiating skill to convince the network and content creators to jump on board with Apple or Google or Microsoft or whomever. But I think the deals will start happening only when the content creators are squeezed to the point where making deals feel safer or more lucrative than getting a piece of subscribers’ cable bill payments.

The worst-case scenario of all this wheeling and dealing will be if the range of content providers are split between different set-top box makers — for AMC to be only on Apple TV and ESPN to be only on Nexus TV.

The best-case scenario will be for all content providers to exist on an equal and level playing field in the form of apps.

When every source of content is an app — whether it’s live or not — consumers could finally get what we’ve always wanted: Everything we want, any time we want.

And that’s one reason I’m rooting for Google in the TV space.

Of all the players competing to become the central living room device, I believe Google will be the most aggressive in pursuing an app-centric model.

An app-centric model means a level playing field that rewards innovation and new ideas, rather than monopolistic control. And this approach would also put the content creators in control.

For example, Discovery Channel should have apps on all the major smart TV platforms that could be subscription based, advertising based or both. Additionally, they could have a Shark Week app for non-subscribers, or individual apps for each show. Content creators and providers could monetize in any way they want, and extensively test ideas for monetization.

Best of all, content apps could value-add social communication or other features, and compete on that level. Reality shows and talent-contest type shows could integrate viewer input in real time (rather than relying on SMS voting and Twitter polls). A viewer’s choice between, say, The Voice and The X Factor might be which show offers the best user participation or social connections.

The way this could pan out is that as many different streaming and smart TV players split the viewing audience, the only way any mainstream content creator could get a big audience is to be an app on all of them.

That would be great for users, because we could choose the platform we like best based on our own criteria, but still get all the programming we want.

In a post-cable TV world, we don’t need the Apple, Microsoft and others stepping in as the new gate-keepers and telling us what we can and cannot watch.

Besides extreme app centricity, I like the idea of Google aggressively developing a TV and living room product for the following two reasons:

1. Google products have become really easy and friendly. If you look at Google’s most recent offerings — things like Chromecast, Google Now and even the Google Wallet and Google Wallet Card — you’ll notice that they are among the clearest, simplest and easiest-to-use products available. Hyper simplicity is exactly what TV needs.

2. Integration with other Google services. One of the biggest “killer apps” that Google has in many of its products is… more Google. It’s the reason I switched from the iPhone to Android. With Google’s rumored Nexus TV product, we can expect killer Google Hangouts and Google+ integration, great YouTube integration and, best of all, Google Now and Google Voice Search integration.

But mostly, I really want Google to go big in the TV space because TV really needs to be app-centric.

The history of television broadcasting has blinded the industry and the viewers to the basic reality that we live in today: A TV should be just another Internet screen, and TV programming should be just another app.

I’m hoping the Google Nexus TV will help us get there.

(Picture courtesy of AMC)