As expected, Google TV was announced at this morning’s I/O keynote (here’s the video site). There’s so much to think about in this initiative. One strikes me as especially intriguing: This is a big boost for micro-niche video.
Clearly, a ton of development has gone into the overall notion. Some of the platform pieces are quite clever, including basing it on Android, the open-source operating system that is now running dozens of phones and other small devices. And what Google brings to the ecosystem in other ways will be a powerful incentive for many other participants.
Google seems to be focusing mostly on the value it sees in combining Hollywood with Google. Semi-ugh. To the extent that Google gets in bed with the copyright cartel, it becomes a partner to an industry that wants to impede progress, not make it.
So when Eric Schmidt was joined on stage by Sony CEO Howard Stringer at I/O, and when “content providers” like the NBA showed off what they want to do with this new system, I mostly shuddered at the prospect of DRM-laden crapola invading my life in new, annoying and ultimately dangerous ways. (DRM stands for “digital rights management,” but really means “digital restrictions management.”)
What I prefer to focus on, however, is another of the ecosystem’s more intriguing (for me) possibilities: microchannels of content that will be simple to create and watch — and much easier than in the past to monetize.
Micro-niche video has been around for a long time now. I can remember back in the late 1990s when sites like the now-defunct Pseudo offered a variety of narrowly tailored programming, and how much I relished the idea of combining the then-new DVR with the Internet and my personal tastes.
What Google is doing now is putting together a jigsaw puzzle that, if I understand what’s happening, could be one of the breakthroughs we’ve been waiting for. Here are the key pieces:
First, this is a serious and useful linking of the Web and TV. Google is working to create a reasonably seamless experience where we can use both to their best effect, with integrated search and more. It’s not the first thing of its kind, but it does seem to stretch the genre.
Second, Google brings with it an advertising marketplace. I can’t overstate how important this is. Niche content will have an instant way to find not just an audience but the advertising to help support it. (Now I see how Google really plans to make YouTube pay for itself, and then some.) The more niche the topic, the more the ads can be considered useful content as opposed to irrelevant annoyances.
Third, niches are sociable experiences if we want them to be. We love to talk about what we really know, or care about, with others who feel the same way.
The possibilities are almost infinite. I’d tune in to the Alpine Skiing Channel or the Acoustic Folk Music from the 1960s Channel or Civil War Channel or My Hometown Neighborhood Channel if they existed. And I’d participate in a social media conversation inside of them.
What could go wrong? Lots of things. Not least of those is a victory by the telecommunications carriers in their fight against what folks call network neutrality, the idea that we users of the Internet should decide what we want to see and do, rather than having the carriers decide what bits of information we get, if we get them.
Even worse with the wireless piece: Building great stuff into an operating system doesn’t guarantee you can use it if the carriers decide to limit your bandwidth, or any number of other control-freakish stuff they may try (in fairness, sometimes, to keep the networks running for people who want to, um, make phone calls or send low-bandwidth text messages).
But let’s focus on the potential: TV may be about to get a lot more interesting…
Dan Gillmor is the director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He’s also the author of the book We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, and previously was a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News. Gillmor blogs at Mediactive.com.