Fogey Friday 13th July: Google TV and YouView

Jul 17, 2012 No Comments by

Sincere apologies for this week’s delayed Fogey Friday.  In mitigation we plead a new puppy that wants to eat everything in the house that isn’t edible and a visit from Old Mother Fogey and Fogey Père.  Time gaps in the fogey taxi service were spent cleaning up piss, pooh and sick and the various rugs and sections of carpet on which it had been deposited.



So imagine it’s last Friday….

There are only two significant stories this week: the respective launches of Google TV and YouView.  Both are platforms for watching stuff on your TV and will cost £250 and £299 respectively for all the relevant gubbins.

Anyone who subscribes to Sky TV will know there is an awful lot of televisual shite on the schedules, much of it on an endlessly repeating loop.  Making original programming that enough couch-dwellers want to watch is expensive, so every last penny has to be squeezed from it, hence the repeats.  It’s a syndicated dynamic that plays itself out around the globe and explains why the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and the cast of Friends are so unfeasibly wealthy.  The deals they struck are good examples of the Long Tail economic model, as is Google’s money-making strategy: small amounts but plenty of them equals big bucks. In the case of Seinfeld and co the bucks were huge to begin with and just got huger (which probably isn’t a word but should be).  Programmes that developed a high net worth became locked into a cycle; the creators and talent knew they had the power (although Charlie Sheen discovered otherwise) and their prices went up and up as success built on success.  For the final two series of Friends the six lead actors were each paid $1 million per show (of which there were 24 in season 9).  Contrast this with the entire output of a channel such as Discovery Shed, where Wheeler Dealers and Chasing Classic Cars must cost all of 20p an episode.  How likely is it that any new TV model will take a punt on the next Friends?  Or even think they could ever get online audience numbers (there were 51.1 million in the US for the double-episode series finale) to cover such gob-smacking salaries?  So TF hopes you all enjoy those endless re-runs because that’s all you’ll get on web-TV.  That or men fishing or doing things with wood.

Tech Fogey also reckons that virtually unlimited choice is the enemy of quality.  A restaurant with a menu the size of Anna Karenina probably has a bank of microwaves out the back.   But everyone with a vested interest in TV seems to believe that we, the viewing public, have an insatiable appetite for TV no matter how crass, inane or tedious.  It makes the Bruce Springsteen song ’57 Channels (and nothing on)’ seem both quaint and apt.  If only there were still so few (although even when there were, most of them were garbage).



This is fundamentally a deconstructed PC without any storage.  You get a box with a wireless receiver that talks to your wireless broadband router, and a remote control that fulfils the functions of keyboard and mouse.  Your TV screen becomes the monitor.  The Google TV box connects to your TV in the same way that a Freeview or Sky receiver does.  All the Google box does is allow you to access Internet-based stuff that Google wants to shovel down your throat.  Google owns YouTube, so that’s where the bulk of the programming will come from.  You might imagine that YouTube is simply a repository for grainy home videos but eventually they will make ‘proper’ TV programmes that we might want to watch regularly, rather than only when we’re bored shitless and it’s a toss-up between watching a baby panda simultaneously burp and fart or jumping under a bus.

The Sunday Times ran a whole page puff-piece on Google TV and how it’s ‘ABOUT TO CHANGE TV FOR EVER’ on 6th July.  If it does change TV in any significant way it will be to make it even more wretched an experience than it is now.  TF finds itself inexorably drawn to BBC programming simply to avoid the perpetual and increasingly frequent deluge of ads on every commercial channel.  If you think ad breaks slotted into programmes are now longer and more frequent you’d be right.  And it’s only going to get worse as commercial TV poops its pants in the face of the Google leviathan and pimps its airtime to even more hectoring tosspots pedalling their overblown tripe.  We know, it’s the devil’s bargain: no ads = no programmes, but it’s like being assaulted by a badgering toddler every ten minutes.  Just as you’ve begun to relax and immerse yourself in the on-screen world of Dexter or Justified, you’re jolted into shouty shiny, land with all its squealing and clamouring.  No wonder the boxed set is so popular. Or the illegal download.

The Sunday Times is part of News Corp which owns Sky, 20th Century Fox and Fox TV, the Wall St Journal, The Sun and much else besides.  In some respects it wouldn’t be in their commercial interests to slag off Google’s goggle box (just think of the ad revenue or the Fox-based content deals) and it can’t be a coincidence that Sky has suddenly launched Sky Store whereby you hook your Sky box up to your broadband router (let’s hope you have a long enough cable because it can’t connect wirelessly) and access pay-per-view content in a not-too-dissimilar-way to Google TV. The Times article (which, if you didn’t buy the print edition can only be read via online subscription) lines up any number of partisan rent-a-gobs who all agree that Google TV is great and conventional TV is rubbish.  This is utter bullshit.  The idea that we, the great British public, are so well-informed that, when faced with a near-infinite universe of televisual choice we will know enough to DEMAND specific content is so far away with the fairies as to have hitched a ride on Voyager 1.

TF only demands quality but that’s too subjective for a search engine.  And in any case, we have enough decisions to make every day; we don’t want to have to agonise over what to watch on TV as well.  Sure, there will be cunning algorithms that, theoretically predict what we might want to watch but similar algorithms cause us to be bombarded online with products and services in which we have no interest whatsoever, so what are the chances Google TV will fare any better?

Another factor is that all this content has to be delivered via your broadband connection and for many people that’s a band that’s none too broad.  And if Internet-based TV really takes off there’s a significant possibility that the infrastructure won’t be able to cope and you’ll spend most of your time staring at that slow-mo catherine wheel while your Internet connection wheezes into life.  Oh, and although there will be some free stuff on Google TV, most of anything a sentient being might care about will be nestling behind a pay-wall.  So if you think you’re already paying too much (either with pounds and pennies or morsels of your soul) for televisual entertainment, get ready to pay even more.

Google TV started life in the US in 2010 where it was roundly slagged off.  One of the original partners in the scheme was Logitech who must have thought leaping into the sack with Google would ensure fat pensions for everyone.  Wikipedia, however, tells us that: “Logitech announced in November 2011 that they will stop making Google TV devices due to their losing more than $100 million on operating profits on their Logitech Revue Google TV device, which is now discontinued.”  Engadget remarked, “Google TV feels like an incomplete jumble of good ideas only half-realized, an unoptimized box of possibility that suffers under the weight of its own ambition and seemingly rushed holiday deadline.”  And our hero, The New York Times’ David Pogue, said: “Google TV may be interesting to technophiles, but it’s not for average people. On the great timeline of television history, Google TV takes an enormous step in the wrong direction: toward complexity.”

Google has fixed a few of the teething problems apparent at launch and acquired new partners to make the necessary hardware but its fundamental premise and the objections to it still remain.  “No matter how many times the industry tries to cram Web+TV down our throats, the masses just don’t swallow,” said Pogue. “That’s probably because when we sit down at the TV, we want to be passive, with brains turned off, and when we surf the Web, we’re in a different mind-set: more active, more directed.”



No. It won’t.

This is a collaboration between terrestrial TV broadcasters in the UK and broadband providers such as TalkTalk and BT.  The basic premise is to provide a non-subscription, catch-up TV service from those channels that offer one: BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and  Channel 5. YouView also allows you to record programmes. If you hook a laptop up to your TV (fiddly but do-able – it must be because TF has done it) you get the same service minus the recordability.  This involves a great deal of farting about to get to watch what you want but you save £299 – about the cost of a laptop.

The YouView set-top (don’t go there…) box hooks up to your TV aerial, broadband router and TV.  It cannot connect wirelessly to your router – you must use an Ethernet cable.  If your router isn’t within cabling distance of your TV your only option is some sort of ‘homeplug’ set up which turns your house’s electrical circuit into a communications network.  Bear in mind that if your house is new or has recently been rewired, chances are it will have two separate circuits for upstairs and down.  If your router is upstairs and your TV is downstairs, a homeplug system won’t allow the two devices (router and TV) to ‘talk’ to each other.

The point of the broadband connection is to give access to the same sort of pay-per-view guff that Google TV does.  Many Blu-ray players now have wireless Internet connectivity and most new TVs sold these days are ‘smart’ – they already have Internet connectivity built in, and it’s often wireless, so you don’t need to make a cabled connection between broadband router and TV.  That few people connect their smart TVs to their broadband connection might suggest viewers aren’t that bothered about all the on-demand stuff it allows them to access. Add to this (lack of) dynamic the fact that those people who want to record programmes will have already invested in a Freeview tuner/PVR such as the Humax HDR Fox T2 and you have to wonder why anyone would give a shit about YouView.  Its gestation period has been so long and fraught with so many bureaucratic, legislative difficulties that what was innovative in 2008 is old hat in 2012.

One glimmer of hope for YouView success has come from, of all places, Sky.  They have announced NOW TV, a non-subscription, pay-per-view platform for their premium content such as movies, sports and first-run US dramas like Mad Men.  NOW TV will be available on YouView but not in HD.  Whether this means viewers can cherry-pick individual Premier League matches, sporting events or other content hasn’t been divulged but if it is possible it could see Sky customers deserting in droves.  Why pay £60 a month just to watch your footie team and the occasional movie?  Get Freeview HD, add YouView and wave bye-bye to that crippling subscription.  A pipe-dream?  Probably.

YouView set top boxes will start shipping towards the end of July.  Try and control your excitement.

More info here