AppleTV, GoogleTV or Just NoCable

Given that Christmas is a gift giving occasion, and that AppleTV and GoogleTV have been hot topics prior to this holiday season, it only makes sense that these video offerings appear in the news again. There are lots of questions regarding these types of technologies, and I will get to some of that later. First, let’s look at some basic review information. Mashable had a solid review of  a GoogleTV earlier this week. The basic review summary is “it doesn’t suck”, but there were some interesting points as well:

Initial reviews have been lackluster, mostly because the OS feels like an unfinished piece of software. From the few times I’ve used it, it’s navigable but not intuitive. It’s usable but complicated.

The core of the problem lies in the speed, fluidity, and intuitiveness of the software. Google TV can be agonizingly slow and the interface can be gut-wrenchingly confusing. I don’t know how Google, Logitech or Sony expected the average blue collar, stay-at-home parent to understand it.

If you have been paying attention to this blog in the past two years, then you know I have been harping on usability for the mass consumer as a huge issue. Google has always had problems with the mass consumer, but excels with the geeky consumer. So, comments like “navigable but not intuitive” or “usable but complicated” make complete sense. Given that this is the first version of the device, navigation and usability typically suffer and is almost acceptable.

The other side of this problem is with geeks with far too many devices. Jesse Stay talked about a problem with his GoogleTV and his plethora of electronics, but the key quote is:

It was actually this problem that convinced me to just go get rabbit ears – with a Google TV, an Xbox and Windows Media Center, and an Apple TV, do I really need cable TV any more?

5 years ago, people talking about not needing cable TV was a ridiculous thought. Only those weird people avoided cable TV, or it was an attempt at significant cost cutting. Ignoring the multiple device problem that Jesse had, he has a very good question, do we really need cable TV anymore? The simple answer is yes, but the longer answer follows.

With the advent of these “TV” devices, we are seeing major technology companies take on the cable companies. The difference in many cases is that the technology companies have no concerns about content except that it is available somewhere. Microsoft‘s Windows Media Center, and the evolution of the Xbox, have also shown that consumers are getting more of their entertainment away from the traditional video providers.

YouTube is not killing traditional TV, everyone is. First, there are music video sites like Vevo, that some traditional music companies are supporting. Next, there are basic video sites like Hulu which host many shows and movies from traditional television stations. Premium stations like HBO are hosting their own video sites or contributing to the premium content of sites like Hulu. Sports leagues, like the NFL and MLB, have been blazing the trail of online video with the help of ESPN. I believe the World Cup, the enormous global soccer (or futbol) event, was the real tipping point. Comcast, a long maligned cable provider, allowed traditional cable subscribers to login to their site and stream whatever games were available, while the games were being played. When a traditional cable provider starts streaming live video, you know something has changed.

The entertainment devices are the next step in this evolution. By providing a better interface than simple RSS, you can subscribe to a “channel” in order to get all of the shows you wanted. Traditional cable subscribers can get this with a DVR (Digital Video Recorder), but only recently did the non-cable devices really catch up. Tivo, and its competitors, had a constant fight with the cable companies. Now, content providers are finding that the internet is a better delivery platform in both availability of technology and potential revenue. Think of the case of HBO. From a traditional cable provider, you need to pay for a basic cable plan and the premium channel on a monthly basis. Assuming that the basic cable plan is $60 per month, your premium HBO is probably $10 per month. The problem is that this becomes a major expense for a lot of people. Most people are getting the premium channels for specific programs anyway, so it makes sense for the content provider to have a subscription for just that program. People will typically pay $1 or $2 for each episode of a series without any concern on iTunes or some other distribution site. If there are 12 episodes in a season, you have someone willing to pay potentially $24 over the course of 3 months that may not have been willing to pay the monthly fees for cable.

The premium channels have been heading in this direction because the cost of getting exclusive access to some movies has become overly expensive, especially when compared to cheaper video subscriptions like Netflix. Whether it is the rent-by-mail or streaming subscription, Netflix is killing its rental competition. Netflix also has deals with each device supplier, Apple and Google, has the ability to stream video on the gaming consoles, specifically the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360, and obviously can be streamed to a capable computer.

With options like Hulu, Netflix and the devices from Apple and Google, cable TV is dying a slow death. Obviously it will not die in 2011, but more early adopters and techies will be moving away from it in the coming year. Companies like Comcast have already started creating alternate revenue streams with internet access, VOIP offerings and other diverse services. Other companies may not be so lucky. The internet has eliminated the need for a middleman, people are getting their video directly from the content creators. Now we just need some major tech blog to label it, like the NoTV or NoCable movement. In case you did not notice, the battle for your living room has begun in earnest.

4 thoughts on “AppleTV, GoogleTV or Just NoCable

  1. I seriously considering cutting my cable out entirely. I recently tried Netflix streaming here in Canada and it was okay at $8 a month but the currently available selection is pretty abysmal. Hopefully they will be correcting that sooner than later. Then I decided to sign up for a 3 month subscription to which is a DVD delivery service like Netflix in Canada. Luckily for me their main distribution centre is located where I live so movies get to my house super fast.

    My next step will be trying to build my own over the air HD antenna. That will enable me to get local channels so I can still watch my hockey 🙂 If that works I’ll cut the cable and go with a antenna/dvd service combo and probably cut my TV costs by more than 50%.


    1. Simon

      This post was partially based on the fact that Santa gave my daughters an Xbox for Christmas. I have been debating moving to Netflix even for the DVD rental and agree that streaming is not ready yet. 2011 could be very interesting for all of these services as they should only get better. Regarding the local channel problem, I am hoping that ESPN, or the various leagues, stream the sporting events and other local programs get onto something like Hulu. Mainly, I would love to cut the cable bill just like everyone else.


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