As predicted, Google has announced the launch of its TV service – Android TV at Google I/O. And, as expected, it looks slick, innovative and, typically, extremely user friendly. Google hit all the right notes when Dave Burke demoed the software. Combining games, streaming services, music and catch-up services is going to improve the TV experience, but one thing is missing – original programming.
Whilst providing a single platform for all of my entertainment subscriptions and channels like Netflix and YouTube is useful, I can’t help but feel a bit underwhelmed by Android TV. Amazon’s Fire TV already does something very similar, as does Apple TV and even Google’s own Chromecast. You can buy a media streamer online for £70 and stream anything from your PC or tablet if you’re really keen.
Even modern day smart TV’s basically do what Android TV is proposing to do. Granted, Android TV looks fantastic. The search function and intuitive answers, the multiplayer gaming between TV and tablets and super slick interface, that seems typical of this I/O, raises the bar.
But it’s all function and zero content, and what’s missing is original programming. Netflix’s success, aside from a low price-point and aggregation of popular TV shows, has been its original content like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black. These shows, as well as other original series, have clocked up huge ratings for Netflix alongside critical acclaim and over 80 awards nominations.
But, most importantly, Netflix signups have surpassed 44 million internationally. With the company expecting another 4 million before September.
Netflix’s success can largely be laid down to both its content deals and original programming. But it’s the original programming that has grabbed headlines and provided people with an excuse to slack off at work and discuss plot twists. I can’t imagine those same people excitedly chatting about the new Android TV menu layout.
Apple, Roku, Google and Amazon are primarily concerned with how you access your content. The actual content you’re accessing is of little importance to them and they’d rather leave it to others. But there is an opportunity to for one of these providers to set itself apart from the competition by commissioning some original content. Obviously, it’s not that simple, Netflix’s slow foray into the world of original content is an indication of the length and fragility of the process.
But Google isn’t one to shy away from a difficult and innovative challenge. You don’t even have to look far for new ideas, Kickstarter is choc-a-bloc with original short films and TV series ideas. Perhaps Google could provide a platform for emerging TV writers and directors via Android TV?
Google has, however, already tried its hand at original programming via the daily YouTube Nation show, which rounds-up the best videos of the day. There was also the YouTube Comedy Week last year that showcased comedy talent from the US and UK with Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen opening. Whilst these shows are popular, they’re nowhere near the blockbuster popularity of something like House of Cards. And that’s what Google should be aiming for.
Rehashing the failed 2010 Google TV experiment seems like a no-brainer now that the public is more at home with the technology, but battling it out for supremacy in the “best TV app” award seems a bit fruitless.
Original programming is where the next internet TV device war will be fought. Netflix can pull data on what its customers like to watch, how often they watch it and what keeps them coming back. That then allows Netflix to decide on what original content to commission, it knows what works, before it works.
Microsoft understood this when it announced a live-action Halo TV series for Xbox Live. Other internet TV services and platforms can do the same, but without original programming the usefulness of that data is limited.
Refining the TV experience is welcome, but creating a new TV experience with new innovative content, in the long-run, will be far more rewarding.