YouTube Won’t Fix Google TV’s Content Problems

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Updated. There’s been an interesting development in the recent Google TV saga, in which the search giant has shifted responsibility for the new TV operating system into its YouTube division, according to a report the SF Chronicle. By doing so, Google hopes its online video site can help Google TV with a lesson in striking content deals. But if that’s the case, it will probably be disappointed.

The whole issue revolves around the lack of premium content available through Google TV and a number of high-profile content companies that have blocked their content from being available on TVs, Blu-ray players and set-top boxes powered by the Google OS. Broadcasters such as ABC, CBS and NBC have all declined to let their web content be played back through the integrated web browser built into Google TV devices built by Sony and Logitech.

The broadcasters were unhappy with the prospect that viewers would be able to watch their web offerings in lieu of live broadcast content on the biggest screen in the home. Since those companies rely on high-value broadcast advertising, as well as increasingly high retransmission fees from cable operators, the idea of giving viewers access to web programming that they can’t monetize as well was a bit of a turn-off. The whole affair has caused a bit of a stir, especially since it takes away from Google’s initial pitch for the TV OS, which was to enable viewers to mix and match web and TV content on the big screen.

But Google TV is primarily a technology platform, and the folks there don’t necessarily have a ton of experience in media matters. As a result, Google is reportedly shifting responsibility for the fledgling TV division into YouTube, which actually has some experience striking content deals with broadcasters like CBS.

The problem is that YouTube itself has had a hard time bringing real high-value, prime-time content onto the site. Most partnerships thus far have included short-form clips of new shows or full-length episodes of older programming. It hasn’t really proven that it can negotiate to add new hit shows or the kind of stuff you’d find on Hulu or broadcast sites.

YouTube is trying to change that, having recently added a pair of execs — Robert Kyncl, former vice president for content acquisition at Netflix, and Dean Gilbert, former vice president of product management for Google TV — to bolster the amount of premium content on the site. But in the short term, it’s difficult to see broadcasters getting on board, unless Google can somehow write a check that makes up for the billions of dollars in broadcast advertising and retrans fees that are at stake if web video competes directly with broadcast programming on Google TV.

We’ve reached out for comment from Google, but haven’t gotten confirmation or more information from YouTube or Google TV representatives about the reported move just yet — but it’s early here on the West Coast. We will update if we hear back.

Update: Google has issued the following statement, denying the key assertion of the SF Chronicle story, that Google has reorged the division to move Google TV within YouTube:

Google TV has been closely aligned with YouTube for years. Although we did reorganize a division within YouTube a month ago, that was based on streamlining our operations so we could make faster decisions and align team goals with the company’s overall business objectives. Just like any rapidly growing organization, it is important for YouTube to evolve and grow to ensure further success in the future. The recently created YouTube Content Organization is run by VP of Content Partnerships Dean Gilbert.

While YouTube says there’s no actual story there, we stand by our initial take on the idea of YouTube leading Google TV content negotiations, which is: Google TV and YouTube will have a hard time convincing broadcasters to unblock their content without writing some very large checks.

To hear what Google TV product lead Rishi Chandra has to say about bringing broadcast content to Google TV, come see him speak at NewTeeVee Live on November 10 in San Francisco.

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