How much of a threat is Google TV to cable providers?

Despite the hoopla surrounding its launch, Apple TV never gave cable companies much to worry about. Now another well-heeled interloper from the computer world is entering the living room in the form of Google TV.

Despite the hoopla surrounding its launch, Apple TV never gave cable companies much to worry about. Now another well-heeled interloper from the computer world is entering the living room in the form of Google TV. Will cable providers be able to brush this new competition aside, or does this represent a significant challenge to their hegemony?

While Apple pushed its set-top box as a way to expand its iTunes footprint, which went head-to-head with pay TV's on-demand movie services—and mainly lost—Google's approach is far more insidious. Its more open approach could yield a number of major partnerships beyond launch deals with Sony and Logitech, and it can even play nicely with pay TV's set-top boxes. Logitech's Google TV box communicates with your cable or satellite provider's box to pull in its information and display it using the Android interface.

There are a couple of ways that Google could impact cable's business model, neither of which would deliver a fatal blow, but both of which could crimp its growth. By buying a Google TV box for a one-time fee or a new HDTV with Google TV built in, you're no longer resigned to pay an extra monthly fee when pay TV providers decide to add new features like Web integration to their packages (like Cox's new offerings). In essence, these companies will be punished for dragging their feet on innovations that could finally bring programming guides and set-top boxes into the new millennium.

Then there's the potentially bigger issue, which is that more subscribers won't see the need to continue being customers, since much of their viewing needs could be met with online video they could watch through the Google TV platform. Considering that more people are already thinking about cutting back (or off) their pay TV subscriptions, this could further erode their customer base, especially if there's some way its backers will let Hulu work with Google TV. (Don't hold your breath.)

But Google TV isn't necessarily a slam dunk. There still will be plenty of people who are perfectly satisfied continuing to order on-demand movies from their cable box instead of streaming them online from Netflix or Amazon. And people might find viewing the Internet on an Android-powered tablet (or iPad) while watching TV might be a better experience than trying to do both on their set.

If nothing else, the introduction of Google TV will provide another wake-up call to cable companies that they need to keep up with innovations in the living room—and that they need to do so soon. In theory, there's no reason they couldn't integrate Google TV services with their own, though the battle over related ad dollars might make for strange bedfellows.

Do you think the introduction of Google TV will affect your TV viewing? Which features would get you to give up your cable/satellite subscription if Google TV devices offered them? What can pay TV companies do in response to this new challenge? Let us know in the Comments section.

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