New Product, Same Old Turf Wars

October 21, 2010

The nation’s leading broadcasters are blocking TV episodes on their websites from playing on Google’s new web television service. The Wall Street Journal reports ABC, NBC and CBS have blocked those using the new Google set top boxes from accessing their networks’ shows. Fox so far is not blocking their programs from the new TV interface.

Google TV relies on a keyboard rather than a TV remote control to help navigate the search of participating broadcast stations, their websites and the rest of the Internet. The company told the Wall Street Journal it has optimized the search results to prioritize the broadcasters and their website videos over any possible pirated content.

Some broadcasters have attempted to link the issue to copyright infringement.  The use of copyright as a fig leaf to prevent new, disruptive technologies from upsetting established media is hardly a new strategy.  Copyright extremism has been complaining about technology for 100 years.  Early MP3 players faced down such spurious charges.  ReplayTV, one of the earliest DVRs, was litigated into obscurity, and commercial skipping was even characterized as “theft.” Cablevision had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court before its remote DVR was exonerated from unsuccessful copyright charges.

Tivo is now a verb, but it faced its own legal threats from those who equated delayed TV watching with piracy.  Slingbox, which lets viewers shift what device they view media on, is still controversial.  Now the newly released Slingbox Player Mobile allows consumers to bring content to the small screen of their Smartphone.

Consumers are increasingly able to control how they view media. But not everyone is happy about that as it inherently impacts what advertising follows them to those devices — and which companies benefit from that.

Now Google has teamed up with a couple set top box companies to offer Google TV, which allows users to search for TV shows on both the Internet and among broadcast stations and play them on their presumably bigger TV screen, rather than just their laptop.

While it may be a useful tool for some TV fans, the web content offered through Google TV is already available on a Smartphone or computer.

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