With Google throwing its unexpectedly pricey hat into the TV set top box business, I grow ever more frustrated by a move that I just don’t understand: Apps on the TV. Apps give content owners and distributors an opportunity to offer branded, custom portals to their content. Yea for them. But that’s not what I want, and I question—despite all of the tech media hype—if it’s what the masses want.
I don’t want to hunt for shows that interest me in a bunch of different applications. Will I find How Your $#*! Got Outsourced in the CBQ app, the Buena Brothers app, or the huFlix app? Why does it have to be in any of them? I just want to watch the damned show. I don’t care who claims the digital streaming rights to it, and I sure as Hell don’t want some heavily-branded experience wrapped around it. I don’t want a different library browsing, selection, and playback experience from show to show or app to app. I just want to watch the damned show. Oh…and I don’t want another accessory on my coffee table: a keyboard. (TiVo: I think you nailed this one).
What we need is an aggregator. I want to see a service and/or device that can pull together all of the digital content available to me and make it navigable and discoverable (and even purchasable) in meaningful ways. Include the stuff I own, the stuff I can buy, the stuff I can or have recorded, and the stuff available to stream freely; but don’t throw up walls between those acquisition models. Let me search and browse across all of that content. Slice it up and group it in different ways, using robust metadata beyond just genre and network. I still want to browse by network, too, because that’s still a logical association, but define network more broadly than just what you find on your cable box, and include YouTube channels and Internet-only content, like CNET and Revision 3.
Boxee tries to do all this, but it’s still too disjointed, and the UI is overly complex. Apple TV—the old Apple TV—did it fairly well, but its appeal is limited to consumers who have bought into the walled iTunes media garden, and the entry price was too high. Hulu and Netflix both get partway there, but their content is limited by distribution rights that are governed by frightened license holders and greedy attorneys. TiVo teased this with Premier but didn’t deliver, and the Roku box is fundamentally designed around the concept of apps.
It’s a tricky issue, because the content rights holders want to paint their colors and logos all over the place, and then get out their rulers. Everyone wants to do their own thing, but ultimately that makes it harder for consumers to find and consume content. Ironically, this thwarts the content owners’ opportunities to distribute and monetize their content.
So the big question is whether Google can pull this off. They have the expertise in content aggregation and discovery, but Google’s user experience record is underwhelming. The solution needs to be simple, powerful, and engaging. And the price point needs to be right. So far, the $300 Logitech set top box and $1300 Sony television with baked-in Google TV have missed that mark. That said, I’ve already pre-ordered the Revue, so I’ll know soon enough.