Google is everywhere. Powering search engine results from California to Canberra, the internet giant can be found on personal computers, laptops, tablet PCs, and smartphones doing all manner of things besides scouring the Internet for keywords. Google can help people navigate a town or city, buy something online, send e-mail, share documents, store files, find images, read books, and much, and much more. According to one report, Google is even set to change the way we watch television.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival earlier this year, the company’s chairman, Eric Schmidt, warned television broadcasters and producers to “ignore the Internet” at their peril. Schmidt believes that the Internet is destined to shape the way in which people watch television; a claim that is already being realized if one considers the role of video downloads and streaming.
In the past, watching television involved sitting in front of a large, heavy box of glass, wood and electrical equipment that combined to produce moving pictures and related sounds. Television has evolved rapidly over the past several decades. The introduction of cable and satellite television providers has pushed the technology to heights that would have been barely imaginable when Andy Pandy was entertaining (or perhaps terrifying) and captivated children and astonished adults.
Today, programming is focused on demand: what viewers want, viewers should be able to get. Viewers should not be forced to wait as content can be streamed whenever it is required, a functionality that has only recently become viable as internet providers move into ADSL and fiber optic technologies. While conventional television continues to evolve technologically, the behavioral patterns of viewers have arguably changed more in line with the Internet than television itself. Google is a notable advocate of this belief system, as made clear by Schmidt’s speech, which sounded more like a mission statement than a social or technological commentary.
Schmidt believes that the future of television will be driven by personalized recommendations, an approach already proved successful by Netflix. Google’s chairman claims that approximately 60 percent of all shows watched on Netflix are shaped by personalized recommendations. The consequence of this ought to be obvious: television broadcasts will become far more fluid as on-demand content and personalized recommendations provide tailored solutions for individual viewers. How networks and producers cope with such changes is almost irrelevant. The Internet has already established through file-sharing – legal or otherwise – that viewing habits neither wait for broadcasters nor conform to editorial nudges and carefully plotted demographical predictions.
Schmidt also believes that watching television will become a social phenomenon, not in the context of a family or group of friends sitting down together to watch a show, but in the sense of virtual social interaction (the kind championed by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter). In the near future, Schmidt argues, Google and other such companies will provide viewers with a level of interactivity that all but guarantees the social ascension of television watching. Schmidt envisages a world in which viewers will use secondary screens (or ‘Google TV’ devices) to interact socially with others while watching a main event on the big screen. This is a scenario not too dissimilar to that established by Google+ Hangouts.
Addressing the television industry directly, Schmidt noted the importance of collaboration among broadcasters and social media networks. Referring to Twitter, Schmidt said: “Trending hashtags raise awareness of shows, helping [to] boost ratings. It can be a metric for viewer engagement, a vehicle for instant feedback, a channel for reaching people outside broadcast times. It can also provide a great incentive for watching live”.
As the Internet shapes the future of television watching, Google intends to be on hand to profit from the change. Schmidt expects personalized advertisements to constitute the next digital cash cow. Personalized recommendations are a perfect fit for personalized advertisements, so viewers can expect television to be made just for them in the future.
If television is to change in the way imagined by Schmidt, internet providers must work hard to provide fast, reliable connections for all customers. Slow broadband would sound the death knell for Google TV, as it may become known.