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Can Google TV Ever Recover?

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NOOB TUBE
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A thoughtful, well-executed combination of broadcast television and the web. Really, how hard is that to pull off?

In recent years, the public has seen numerous attempts at merging search, streaming video, and online/offline storage with network television, and every single one of them has fallen short. Some may excel in one particular area, but glaring shortcomings prevent them from being the end-all, be-all home media center. Roku and the new Apple TV offer no local storage or true media ownership, the Boxee Box launched without Netflix or Hulu compatibility, and WD TV doesn't possess live television integration.

This year saw more than a few launched products, but barely a handful surpassed a glorified hard drive. Google TV, however, aimed to be the full package. The system would allow for streaming video, live search, local storage, and broadcast compatibility -- embedded within everything from set-top boxes to HDTVs. It was a glorious prospect and many were eager to see devices finally released.

Turns out, there were more than a few bugs to handle. Not only that, studios and networks viewed the system as a media pariah and began blocking access to their official websites -- Time Warner was the among the sole media backers to the system.

And now, the New York Times reports that Google is asking that manufacturers hold back their Google TV offerings until the search giant has a chance to update the software. Anonymous sources told the Times that -- despite expectations -- Samsung, VIZIO, LG, and Toshiba will not be flaunting their Google wares at CES, which is being held the first week of January in Las Vegas.

This is a crushing blow to the service intended to completely upend how we watch TV.

Known for its prolonged beta releases, Google has shown much difficulty entering into the hardware realm -- as evidenced with the celebrated, yet sluggishly sold Nexus One. And considering the number of partnerships that Google TV is required to forge in order to run flawlessly, well, it appears Google put the cart before the horse.

But as for a stable OS, that should've been the least of the company's problems when launching Google TV. The mad dash to store shelves -- perhaps to match wits with the new Apple TV and the then-forthcoming Boxee Box -- came at a cost to both capability and operability. Crucial agreements with networks weren't established, leaving media companies desperate to prevent any loss of advertising revenue. The software was hampered by unfinished programming, like the stripped-down Netflix app. And no person should ever lay their hands on this controller outside an R&D practical joke.

Last month's Google TV price slash should give an indication how those issues contributed to a dismal launch.

What Google needs to realize is the ramifications of a perfectly executed Google TV. A growing subset of the public has and will continue to clamor for a dynamite media center, but Google must bear in mind the overwhelming -- almost insurmountable -- workload needed to pull it off.

At the end of 2010, networks and cable companies are scrambling to prevent consumers from ditching their subscriptions using tiered data plans, blocked websites, and desecrating net neutrality. Their underhanded, moneymaking tactics are beginning to push more consumers toward alternative sources. Now, more than ever, a media leader needs to emerge, and I have continued hope that Google has the size and clout to be that multimedia messiah. To truly understand the needs of the viewer and create a service that caters to their whims but doesn't empty their bank accounts.

But after a botched launch like Google TV's, that hope is beginning to dwindle.
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