With the Financial Times reporting today that Sony (s SNE), Intel (s INTC) and Google (s GOOG) are going to announce an Android-based “Smart TV” platform, one has to wonder: What’s going to be so smart about Google’s TV play? Devices made by Sony will reportedly be based on a new Intel Atom processor dubbed Dragonpiont and feature a TV-optimized flavor of Android that will likely include a TV app store.
TV apps may not be big business just yet, but they’re hardly revolutionary. So why did Intel CEO Paul Otellini tell analysts last week that this is going to be the “the biggest single change in television since it went (color)?” We decided to dig a little, and found an interesting patent application for a “network media player with user-generated playback control” that Sony applied for late last year. Here’s the gist of it:
The patent application essentially describes a network media player able to generate and consume XML-based metadata for programming from any source, including over-the-top, local media and cable TV. This type of metadata would then be stored on a central server and exchanged between users through social networks, or made available by broadcasters or other entities.
Users could also vote on metadata and freely mix video from different sources. From the application:
“(A) user may create a Cliff note version of the recent Super Bowl game footage to tailor such footage… For example, one user may tailor the footage so that only the “snaps” for the entire game are included within the Cliff note version. In this way, the user can view the entire series of plays within the game without all the extraneous material unrelated to such plays. Thereafter, other users can access this version or Cliff note of the media and amend it to their needs or desires.”
Users could even cooperate on metadata to assemble a collection of the best moments of an awards show, and there could even be a function to add graphical overlays. Again, from the patent filing:
“User-generated overlays can be used to create custom playback of content. For example, a user could overlay a frame image, add a ticket bar, place a logo in the corner of the screen, add a sound track, or perform any other overlay function.”
Essentially, you could think of this type of metadata as something like KML for your TV. Owners of such a network media player could annotate and showcase media in very much the same way Google Earth users can generate and submit their own KLM files to annotate existing maps. Google could profit from it by learning a lot about the device’s user base, and advertisers could deliver custom-tailored ads through simple XML feeds.
How likely is it that we’re going to see such a system on display at Google I/O this Wednesday? Unfortunately, not very. The patent application was filed by Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA), which is overseeing the development of the Playstation, but is not in charge of TV-related products. Then again, TV and gaming are growing together, and it would certainly be a smart move by Sony to utilize its SCEA assets for any over-the-top product.
However, the bigger lesson is that the thing that will make Sony’s “Smart TV” products unique isn’t simply a TV-optimized version of Android with yet another Twitter client, but custom-tailored apps made to impress users and give the platform an advantage over competitors like Vudu, Boxee or Yahoo (s YHOO) Widgets.
That’s not an entirely unprecedented strategy. Google has invested a lot of resources into giving Android phone users exclusive apps like Google Maps with free turn-by-turn directions, and device makers like Motorola have customized Android to make their phones stand apart as well. So if “Smart TV” truly wants to be revolutionary, it better offer us some apps that we haven’t seen anywhere else and that greatly enhance the functionality of the device — like, for example, a cool metadata mashup.
Related content on GigaOm Pro: TV Apps: Evolution from Novelty to Mainstream (subscription required)