Anyone who was an early adopter of TiVo will recall how difficult it was to explain digital video recording. It was one of those things that you couldn't really explain to people. It was something they had to see in action, something that they had to experience to really appreciate the way the technology would change their lives.
Today, that's the uphill battle in front of Google TV, which is preparing for its big launch in the coming weeks.
Watching television is one of those near-sacred experiences that some people just don't want to disrupt - especially with something like Web content. Do you really want tweets or Facebook updates flashing across the screen during a action-packed movie or a laugh-out-loud sitcom? Probably not.
But what about during American Idol, the Oscars or the World Series? Hmmm. Maybe you would - after all, there are already a lot of people who are already bringing their own TV commentary to live, event television via Facebook feeds and Twitter blasts.
Just for a minute, though, put aside how Google TV will make the experience more interactive. Forget, for a moment, how Google will do a better job than the old TV ratings system to determine what you like or don't like on TV, when you start channel surfing for something else or which shows you might watch several times. And, of course, don't think about how Google - the advertising company - will use all of this data to serve up ads that are supposed to be relevant to you.
Instead, just consider for a moment how Google TV will bridge the worlds of television and Web video and bring them together to alter your television-viewing experience.
In a blog post yesterday, Google highlighted the partners who are excited about "how they can use the Google TV platform to personalize, monetize and distribute their content in new ways." Most, the company noted, already work with Google TV but many want to "further enhance their premium web content for TV viewing." Among those on-board early: NBC Universal, HBO, Turner Broadcasting and the NBA. In the post, the company also noted that it had created a special web site devoted to Google TV. On that site, Google explained why Google TV will change the video viewing experience:
We haven't been this excited about TV since Saturday morning cartoons. Not only are TVs the center of our living rooms, but five billion of us use them. That's more than the number of people who use mobile phones or computers. Knowing how the web radically transformed those devices, we wondered what it could do for the most ubiquitous screen in the world. Which is why we've been busy geeking out on how to make TV as awesome as possible. The result, coming shortly, is Google TV. It's an adventure where TV meets web, apps, search and the world's creativity. Like Android, it will be an open software platform. From the start, it will be able to work with any TV. And before long, anyone will be able to build applications for it. The coolest thing about Google TV is that we don't even know what the coolest thing about it will be.
That last sentence is the money line. We have no idea what the coolest thing about Google TV will be - and that's OK, because the stuff that it's promising to do now is pretty damn cool already.
For some time, consumers have been squawking about the hold that cable and satellite TV have over us, forcing us to pay for programming we don't necessarily want but are forced to pay for because it comes as part of the bundle. Google TV isn't necessarily a technology that is replacing the cable or satellite companies - but I certainly can see those folks scrambling around a bit to make sure that customers don't start jumping ship. (It's amazing what a bit of competition will do, huh?)
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the revamped Apple TV and how that product is also looking to enhance the television experience. As the long-time owner of an Apple TV device, I can honestly say that the offering was cool when we first got it - but that luster has gone away. Frankly, I wasn't impressed with Apple's update when the company unveiled it last month. In typical Apple fashion, the platform is still very closed and very restrictive - and still very tied to iTunes.
The only content available on the Apple platform is the content that Apple is able to put on it by cutting deals with the content providers. By contrast, Google TV is unleashing content on the Internet by making it searchable by your TV.