RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And it used to be that if you had a good cable subscription you were covered for TV if both of you wanted to watch it. Now, some people are buying Roku boxes, renting movies on Apple TV and streaming Netflix through their Wii. And the biggest name on the Internet has just put its hat into the ring. NPR's Laura Sydell reports on Google TV.�
LAURA SYDELL: There've been TVs on the market�that sort of, well, kind of connect you to the Internet. Nette Puente, a sales person at the Best Buy in San Francisco, shows off a typical set.�
Ms. NETTE PUENTE (Best Buy): This is the Samsung one. There's going to be a little button on all your remotes. So you hit Internet TV and it's going to take you straight to your applications.
SYDELL: The key word here is applications. The set has Internet connections to�Netflix, Yahoo, Pandora, Amazon. But you can't watch all the video you find on the web. That's true of Apple TV and the Roku box too. That's what makes Google TV different.�
Mr. RISHI CHANDRA: We are trying to bring the whole web.
SYDELL: Rishi Chandra is part of the team that developed Google TV.
Mr. CHANDRA: What Google TV really offers is a way for you to seamlessly access all that great web content that is already out there today that you access on your PC or your mobile phone, directly on your television.
SYDELL: To get Google TV, you have buy a special Sony TV or one of their Blu-ray players, or a box built by Logitech. Chandra is using the Logitech box, which comes with a lightweight keyboard that controls the TV.
Mr. CHANDRA: What you'll see here, is I'm going to bring down a search box. Anyone who understands the Web understands this notion of being able to type in where you want to go, and we'll help you get there.
SYDELL: Chandra searches for the spoof news site The Onion.
Mr. CHANDRA: The Onion actually has a great set of video content online.
(Soundbite of TheOnion.com video)
Unidentified Man #2: Just ahead, The Huffington Post has launched a new print edition featuring articles torn out of other newspapers.
Mr. CHANDRA: This is The Onion and you can see I can, you know, as part of the personalization aspect, right, I can actually go and, you know, watch the episodes of the videos that I care about.
SYDELL: And you don't have to sit in your desk chair in front of your computer screen. You can lie on the couch surrounded by your friends and watch it on a big TV.
When Quentin DeWolf settles into his couch to watch his Google TV, he says he moves effortlessly between cable and the Internet.
Mr. QUENTIN DEWOLF: Fifty percent of the time it's watching regular plain Jane TV. And I do use its guide to find TV shows. And then 50 percent of the time I'm going to sites and watching video on those sites.
SYDELL: DeWolf says it's perfect for him because there is just some programming he can't get through his cable provider.
Mr. DEWOLF: I'm a strange bird who's into a lot of things that the mainstream American are not.
Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)
Mr. DEWOLF: I like things like anime and also European cars, and all these things that there are lots of shows about in the rest of the world, but there aren't in this country.
SYDELL: But he isn't ready to turn off his cable connection yet, because there is a lot of regular TV he can't get online. And there's a reason for that: There are a lot of companies with an interest in how you watch the Internet on your TV. Cable companies, networks, movie studios, Netflix, Apple, Amazon - the list is long.
The minute Google stepped into the TV world, it had a conflict with the major networks. When you are on your computer and you go to the ABC site, you can watch entire episodes of "Dancing With The Stars."
(Soundbite of "Dancing With The Stars")
Mr. TOM BERGERON (Announcer): So let's wait no more. For the first time this season, let's bring out our brand new stars.
(Soundbite of cheering and applause)
SYDELL: But when you try it with Google TV, ABC has blocked the site. The same is true for NBC and CBS.
The problem for the networks, says Gartner analyst Andrew Frank, is that they can't make as much money off the Web broadcasts. The cable companies pay tens of millions of dollars a year for access.
Mr. ANDREW FRANK (Vice President, Marketing and Advertising Technology, Gartner.com): That's what I think they believe is under threat from this so-called over-the-top model that connected TVs represent.
SYDELL: Frank says Google TV has also got the cable companies worried.
Mr. FRANK: The big fear for cable companies is that consumers are going to start realizing that they can get a lot of this content online for free or pay less, and their going to start cutting the cord, as they say.
SYDELL: But Frank thinks one thing that might happen is that the cable companies will raise their rates for Internet connections, as consumers start canceling their cable subscriptions. And Frank thinks, inevitably, they will.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
A look at Google TV, from how it works to how cable companies and traditional networks are responding to the threat to their business model that comes from an effort to bring consumers "the whole Web" on their televisions.
The number of ways to connect your TV to the Internet has been growing, but many people find that what's available isn't fully satisfying. There's the Roku Box, there's Apple TV, and there's watching Netflix through your Wii. But all those connections are walled gardens. They don’t provide full Internet access.
The same is true even of Internet-connected TVs from Samsung and others. They do have applications that connect to Amazon, Netflix, and Yahoo, but the choices are limited. Now, one of the biggest brands on the Internet has gotten into the act: Google.
Rishi Chandra, part of the team that created Google TV, puts it simply: "We are trying to bring the whole web."
Chandra says, "What Google TV really offers is a way for you to seamlessly access all that great web content that is already out there today that you access on your PC or your mobile phone directly on your television."
But Google TV isn't without its own hardware hurdles -- to get it, you'll need a special Sony TV or Blu-ray player, or a standalone box built by Logitech.
On a recent visit to Google's offices in Mountain View, I sat down with Chandra and one of the Logitech boxes to see how it worked. He pulled out a very lightweight keyboard connected to the TV and pressed a button. A search box appeared on the screen.
"Anyone who understands the web understands this notion of being able to type in where you want to go, and we'll help you get there," he says as he types out a search for the spoof newspaper The Onion -- one of Chandra's favorites. "The Onion actually has a great set of video content online," he tells me.
Chandra clicks on the link, and a list of Onion videos pops up. He clicks on one, and a mock-serious newscaster fills the 40-inch screen. Chandra and I sit back on comfortable chairs and laugh as the announcer says, "Just ahead, The Huffington Post has launched a new print edition featuring articles torn out of other newspapers."
Other fans of online video may find, as I did, that this is a vast improvement over sitting at a desk chair hunched over a computer. Of course, I was just getting a show from a Google employee.
Quentin DeWolf recently went out and purchased a Sony Google TV, and he says he loves it. He can sit on his couch and switch back and forth between cable TV and the Internet. "Fifty percent of the time, it's watching regular plain-Jane TV," he says. But the Google search engine brings up links to Internet sites as well as TV listings. "I do use its guide to find TV shows, and then fifty percent of the time I'm going to sites and watching video on those sites."
DeWolf says this is perfect for him, because there's programming he wants to see that he can't get on cable. "I'm a strange bird who's into a lot of things that the mainstream Americans are not," he says. "I like things like anime and European cars. All these things that there are lots of shows about in the world, but there aren't in this country."
But as much as he values access to those unusual choices, he isn't ready to turn off that "plain-Jane" cable connection either, because there's broadcast and cable TV he can't get online. And there's a reason for that: there are a lot of companies with with an interest in how you watch the Internet on your TV. Cable companies, networks, movie studios, Netflix, Apple, Amazon -- the list is long. And needless to say, they aren't all eager to help Google TV achieve its goal of providing television plus "the whole web."
In fact, the minute new-media giant Google connected to television, the old-media major networks got their backs up, and they responded. For instance, if you're on your computer and you go to ABC's web site, you can watch entire episodes of the highly rated Dancing with the Stars. But if you try the same thing with Google TV, it doesn't work. ABC has blocked that content from the service.
The problem for the networks, says Gartner analyst Andrew Frank, is that they can't make as much money from web broadcasts as they can from their existing arrangements with cable companies, which pay tens of millions of dollars a year for access to the networks' shows.
"That's what I think they believe is under threat from this so-called over-the-top model that connected TVs represent," says Frank.
And the threat doesn't rattle only the networks -- Frank says Google TV has cable companies worried as well. "The big fear for cable companies," he says, "is that consumers are going to start realizing that they can get a lot of this content online for free, or pay less in any case, and they're going to start cutting the cord, as they say."
Frank thinks one thing that might happen is that the cable companies will raise their rates for Internet connections as consumers start canceling their cable subscriptions -- as he believes they inevitably will.