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Google Television The Almighty Buck News

Can Google Fix the Cable Box? 223

theodp writes "In purchasing Motorola Mobility, Slate's Farhad Manjoo reports that Google will also come into possession of one the nation's biggest suppliers of set-top boxes. So, can Google work some of its do-no-evil magic on the loathsome cable box? Don't bet on it, says Manjoo. For one thing, there's no evidence that Google would be very good at remaking the set-top box (Google TV, anyone?). But even if Google managed to dramatically improve set-top boxes, it's doubtful that cable and satellite companies would buy in. First, they'd lose all those ridiculously lucrative cable-box rental fees. More importantly, they'd have to give up control of the main entertainment device in most homes, and with it the opportunity to slow or stymie competing sources for entertainment. After the merger, notes Manjoo, Google could get several billion dollars by selling off Motorola Mobility's set-top-box division — a much surer payday than taking on Big Cable."
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Can Google Fix the Cable Box?

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  • But ... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Thursday August 18, 2011 @08:58AM (#37128390)
    But there is a lot of viewership demographic data to gather, and no one harvests ad data better than Google. They'll be able to offer an online ad that matches one that the view didn't switch away from last night while watching TV.
    • The question, though, is whether the customers(ie. the cable companies that mass-buy STBs, not the end users) would see that as a desirable feature...

      Team Cable already knows who you are, because they bill you and run a coax line to your house, and may well prefer their own in-house collection, however inferior, to Google having a chance to improve its overall advertising prowess on "their consumers".
      • I'd imagine that Google would offer a couple of 'benefits'. They'd include a web browser with the set-top box and include your browser history as well as your TV-viewing habits to pick adverts. They'd offer the cable companies the same sort of deal that they provide to website owners: Google harvests the data, shows ads, and takes a percentage of the ad revenue. Most cable companies aren't in direct competition with each other - you generally don't have the choice of multiple cable companies in a single
        • by tepples ( 727027 )

          They'd include a web browser with the set-top box

          But do cable companies want video on demand over the Internet (such as YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Netflix should Netflix go along with this) to compete with the cable companies' own video on demand service? Because once the cable box integrates the equivalent of WebTV, people not interested in sports will learn what video is available over the Internet, and many will drop TV from their bundle to save a few bucks a month.

          Most cable companies aren't in direct competition with each other - you generally don't have the choice of multiple cable companies in a single area

          Where I live, I can get Xfinity TV and Internet from Comcast, DISH Network with Frontier In

      • The FCC already has a ruling on this:
        http://www.fcc.gov/guides/digital-cable-compatibility-cablecard-ready-devices [fcc.gov]

        It's kinda like the way it was with telephones. People could own their own but it took literally over a decade before it really caught on. I know you could buy your own phone back in the late 1970's. However, the telcos were making pretty good money off rentals until at least the early 1990's. Lots of people just kept renting.

        On the other hand, those old phones were very well enginee
        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          Yeah, phones would cost 100+ dollars in those days. About a week after that ruling, 25 Dollar phones appeared in the market, with in a year 10 dollar phones where widely available.

          None of the matched the durability of the telco phones...but was that kind of durability worth it? no.

          They also used to be responsibly for the complete line, including the physical line in your house.

    • Re:But ... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday August 18, 2011 @09:54AM (#37128982) Homepage

      It is already gathered. At comcast in 2002 I was gathering data from the boxes for sales. we had better data than Nielsen.

      I can give you a breakdown of each box and what channel it was tuned to at that time reported every 5 minutes. it can report faster but that was the default of the boxes that comcast had deployed.

      I pulled all of it into a SQL database so the sales people had real time demos in 5 minute increments of the number of boxes watching each channel INCLUDING VOD views.

      This is not new. it has been going on for a while now.

      • So now Google's going to know what I'm watching on TV too ? One step closer to the Google opt-out village [youtube.com] I guess.

      • I'm sure Comcast appreciates it when they see my viewing habits in the morning:

        6:30 AM Local CBS channel
        6:30:02 Local NBC channel
        6:30:10 Local Fox channel
        6:30:15 BBC on local NPR channel
        6:30:30 CNN Headline News
        6:30:52 CNBC
        6:31:02 CNN
        6:31:18 Music Choice
        6:31:20 Music Choice (next channel in series)
        6:31:22 Music Choice (next channel in series)
        6:32:18 CNN Headline News
        6:32:20 CNBC
        6:34:23 MSNBC

        Guess where the commercials are.

    • Hmmm... had not thought of that. So far I been thinking this deal will blow up in Google's face, BUT they may be able to get something out of their cablebox business.

      Then again, cable companies can switch providers in a flash if they are not in agreement with any Google policy, they have proven time and time again they are bigger control freaks than Apple.

  • by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Thursday August 18, 2011 @09:02AM (#37128434) Homepage Journal
    Can I have an HD version of my old ReplayTV? Fantastic interface, incredibly easy to use. Just add room-to-room streaming to make up for the loss of transferring every recording. (And I didn't even have the one that did automatic commercial skipping.)
    • by plover ( 150551 ) *

      Yep. definitely miss that interface. Every cable box I've had sucks rocks in comparison.

      Maybe Google will improve it, though. Even if all they did was let me create my own channel ordering and use it as the default when I hit "guide", it would go a long way toward improving the usability.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      Room to room streaming has been there cince 2000. Did you even try to hook up tow of them in your home?

      Also the ReplayTV allowed you to extract the TV shows. there is a nice program that existed that acted like a ReplayTV on the network and extracted the TV recordings for you.

  • In Canada you can buy the same boxes or rent them. Some cable / satellite systems even have rent to own.

    And when you buy them there is no per box outlet / mirroring fees.

    But over hear in comcast land new software like tivo on the Motorola cable box does not make it out of the testing area.

    Stuff like E-sata is locked out (a few other cable systems have it turned on)

    Other cable systems have auto HD where they can tune to the hd channel when you enter the old SD number. Comcast has the half backed pop up the a

    • Stuff like E-sata is locked out (a few other cable systems have it turned on)

      That is something I miss about Adelphia - they had the e-sata ports enabled. When I call Comcast about it the answer is invariably "it's in beta" - riiight. In other words, it's enbled in the Adelphia markets they acquired, but not on the the nodes running off the heads Comcast deployed.

      You would think they would enable it - instead of customers breaking DVRs to get upgrades, they can enable the e-sata ports and let the customer pl

  • You come home, turn on the TV, and it'll ask you for your Gmail account.

  • More importantly, they'd have to give up control of the main entertainment device in most homes

    Interesting if true. I would have thought with Hulu and tons of other entertainment that cable's glory days were behind. I'd really like to know the % of homes that still have cable as I'm sure with the economy, many are considering other, cheaper alternatives.I know many that have ditched it in the past couple years and those that do have it, it's mainly b/c of ESPN/sports. At least around here, it is a non-trivial amount to add basic cable to your internet service, let alone any premium packages.

    • I think the latest figures still have cable penetration at > 90%. While the economy has shed a few, and others like myself have left by getting fed up with too many ads and an overall lack of quality, the exodus hasn't quite picked up enough steam to really make a dent in subscriber numbers. Plus, there's too many people that don't want to lose access to their favorite shows, and the stunts this summer that Netflix pulled by raising their rates 60%, combined with Fox putting their shows on Hulu after eig
      • I would have thought with Hulu and tons of other entertainment that cable's glory days were behind.

        As long as they own the wire coming into your house they are going to have a LOT of influence. Hulu is only as good as the internet connection it is attached to and only a relatively small percentage of the population has what I would consider enough bandwidth to really make it work. Furthermore they have lots of legal agreements with the various networks (content providers) as well as owning some networks of their own (Comcast) and have the ability (the legal right is still up in the air) to block or slo

  • Google is deploying fiber to the home. I'm sure there will be a video offering, what else are they going to do with that bandwidth? So, why does google care what Comcast or Direct TV thinks? If they make a better box they can use it for themselves. If they find a better way to generate revenue with it, then maybe the other operators my take a look at it.

  • Google could do some real evil and start adding onscreen ads, or just make ads clickable to go to an informational website while buffering the remainder of the show. If Google splits the click revenue with the cable cos, they would almost certainly go along.

    • by Dan667 ( 564390 )
      if they were able to do adsense on a cable box right to your TV unobtrusively like their search engine it could be a disruptive technology. If they really wanted to upset the apple cart they would provide an open api to the cable box and then benefit from thousands of hackers doing things like they do in MythTV.
  • So called 'big cable' only has a future as internet providers. Broadcast media, the already anachronistic channel paradigm, and tiered services are all as doomed as Blockbuster.

  • I'm not sure Google can pull it off. They have the engineering talent, but I don't think they would be able to negotiate with the content creators or put an elegant face on their software and hardware.

    There are persistent rumors of Apple being interested in making a television and I think they could pull it off. They already have a bunch of deals with content people in place. They also have the ability to look at a market and see what could be rather than what is. They reshaped the music industry and cell p

    • Considering Apple charges $999 for a 27-inch screen now, I'd hate to see their TV prices.

      • I don't think Apple gear is as overpriced as it once was. Their less mainstream items (like 27" monitors) may be expensive, but most of their mainstream consumer stuff is priced fairly (IMHO). Apple A/V gear might not appeal to the geeks here who would rather roll their own MythTV setup, but for those of us who don't want to get our hands dirty or need equipment that can be used by less tech-oriented family members, it could be very appealing.

        In other words, cost and value aren't the same thing at all.

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          mmm depends. There high end stuff is over priced, and their monitors are over priced. Hardware speaking.

  • Let's be really clear here for a moment that the cable companies are NEVER going to let Google implement what's possible or what the consumer desires in the way of a proper set top box. Don't you just implicitly expect things like Slingbox to just, y'know, work? Nope...impacts revenue. How about HBO GO? Hmm...no again, that's a problem from a demand forecasting perspective. The cable companies win today by limiting choices (options, bandwidth consumption, etc) and Google would invariably want to uncork that

  • SageTV (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GrumpyOldMan ( 140072 ) on Thursday August 18, 2011 @10:03AM (#37129124)

    Google bought a small company called SageTV a few months back. They were one of the only companies offering a "whole house" PVR solution via tiny thin-client media extenders running on multiple TVs, and PVR software running on PCs. They had an extensible UI, as well as a number of features (like local media file management) that cable company DVRs either don't do, or do very poorly.

    My guess is that they intend to apply the SageTV team to making cable boxes suck less; especially whole house solutions. Obviously they won't be using clients PCs as the server any longer, but a lot of the technology is applicable.

    • by jriskin ( 132491 )

      I'm another loyal SageTV user... I've been using it for close to 10 years and it's really nice. I never went crazy with the multi-tv setups, but paired with a Hauppauge HD-DVR i've been watching crystal clear HD on FIOS for years. It was disappointing when they basically sold it and shutdown the website. I highly doubt they'll put out anything as feature-rich as the original SageTV. It's not as 'cutesy' as Tivo but its easily better in a lot of ways. I can seamlessly watch DVR TV/LiveTV/Downloaded Content a

  • We dropped our cable subscription a few months ago when they forced set-top boxes on us. We were already paying for something we hardly used, and the idea of adding even more electronics to our setup was distasteful. Our main home theater unit already has too many devices to list here, and two of the three other TV's are wall-mount with no reasonable place for a set-top box. I actually shopped around for satellite before realizing that every one of those providers force you to use their equipment as well. S

    • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

      My only regret is live sports. I'm a fan of one particular sport that is carried on a cable sports channel, and has virtually no online availability.

      This [myp2p.eu] is what you want. Not, strictly speaking, legal, but pretty much every sport you may want to watch can usually be found on the forums, live.

  • The cable set top box wouldn't really stay in Google's control. The cable companies themselves have to drive them.

    Do you think they want Netflix running on your cable box that they subsidize?

    If Google can get some kind of profit sharing model with the cable companies when it comes to advertising then they will get some traction.

    Google also got into the whole ad scheduling space as well. This might give google the ability to insert local ads into youtube streams, which could be a decent revenue stream and re

  • Can google fix the cable box? No.
  • They're already in my phone, PIM, and POOM data, I don't need them harvesting my viewing habits for the Feds and advertisers as well.

  • You can't fix cable without fixing the cable companies, not the box.

    • You can't fix cable without fixing the cable companies, not the box.

      Since cable went digital, all a cable company is is an ISP with a reasonably fat pipe to the home with an agreement with content providers to provide TV content that provides a set-top box to display that content on the TV.

      Google is -- with its Kansas City demonstration project -- becoming an ISP with a fat pipe to the home. With SageTV and Motorola acquisitions, its got both quality PVR software and an established STB business. They are mi

  • "Do-no-evil magic"? Citation bloody needed. Those days are past. Look at the Google+ names fuckery - stuff like blocking Hong Kong users from their email [google.com] because they don't think their names sound American enough. Even their own employees [livejournal.com]!

    You are not the customer, you are the product [blogspot.com]. Eric Schmidt stated it clearly [allthingsd.com] last year. Make no mistake: Google has decided it's finally time to cash in.

    This has abolished their goodwill in an instant. I'm seeing people seriously question Google for collaborative document

    • by Lifyre ( 960576 )

      While I completely agree that Google has abandoned the "Do No Evil" policy a long time ago I am unconvinced that any other company put in the same position would act substantially different, or even that they should. Microsoft already does much of the same things Google does with the information that Bing brings them.

    • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

      How much bad will do you have to be running up for people to think Bing might be a better idea?

      I've found that Bing is much better than Google for technical searches because it just seems to search for what I actually asked it to search for and not search for words I didn't ask for which it thinks I might perhaps have meant to search for. Google search really sucks these days and I'm probably going to switch completely away from it soon. Every new 'upgrade' to their search seems to make it even worse.

      Oh yeah, and let's not forget stealing the up and down arrow keys from the scrollbar so now I can no

  • On 8/8/11 the new FCC rules on cable cards went into effect.

    See http://www.fcc.gov/guides/cablecard-know-your-rights [fcc.gov] for more information

    Open cable cards will hopefully set us free. If not, sic the bureaucrats on your cable company.
    • On 8/8/11 the new FCC rules on cable cards went into effect.

      See http://www.fcc.gov/guides/cablecard-know-your-rights [fcc.gov] for more information

      Open cable cards will hopefully set us free. If not, sic the bureaucrats on your cable company.

      Miraculously, the cost to rent a card suddenly increased to the price they used to charge for the entire box.

      Maybe I'm just pessimistic, but as far as I can tell the new rules say nothing about what the cable companies may charge for the cards; I wouldn't expect to see any reduction on monthly bills for someone renting a card instead of a box.

  • Farhad completely misses the opportunity. He sees only two worlds...a world where Google completely tries to change the whole paradigm of how cable service is provisioned and delivered, or just selling off the set-top division of Motorola Mobility. I agree with him that for Google to attempt to make the cable companies let people buy their own boxes is madness. I also think, however, that Google realizes this. Not only is there the history of the CableCard, but also the problems with support, the fact t

  • Forget about what the cable companies want. If Google produces a device everyone wants they'll have no choice. They didn't want TiVo or any DVRs at first, or multiple TVs connected, or IPTV or any kind. Popularity will force their hand.

    Imagine if a $200 box made it realistic/simple/practical to make video phone calls, and the same box could surf the web, play games, show and record TV. Good hardware isn't the issue, it's good software with open and free SDKs. As long as they don't "beta" it to premature dea

  • My Motorola cable box died recently and the new one that Comcast supplied did NOT have the Motorola name brand on it. In fact it only has the name Xfinity on it. I wonder If Comcast has designed their own box and contracted to have it made for them. (but by WHO?)

  • The cable box is here to stay. Well at least for a while and Google should really be into that anyway. The Google tv was their attempt to get Google on tv's everywhere. If they have cable boxes too, that is another way to get that access to the tv. If we are lucky they will make smaller boxes and hopefully better. Who knows, maybe they will integrate it with the "cloud" somehow. Maybe integrate it with the cable internet and if you have cable internet and cable tv you can watch your cable shows anywhe
  • Cord Cutting has become fairly mainstream lately, probably more due to the economy than anything else but the trend started with people just tired if paying insanely high bills. Cable companies have enjoyed monopolies on internet in many areas since driving out local ISP's. Prices here were actually reasonable when there was competition but as speeds increased smaller companies didn't have any ability to compete. Prices in my area have gone up over 100% since I first had it installed 8 years ago. What w

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday August 18, 2011 @01:21PM (#37131888) Homepage

    S&P dropped their rating on Google stock from "buy" to "sell" after the Motorola acquisition, and knocked $200 off their one-year predicted price for Google stock. That's very unusual.

    Google's track record with hardware is not good. They were in the direct sales phone handset business for only a few months before they had to exit it. Customers insisted that the hardware work, and wanted customer service when it didn't. Google couldn't handle that. Their approach to the "Google Search Appliance" (Mini size) [google.com] is weird. There's no phone support for this rack-mounted enterprise device. If it breaks, they FedEx you a new one. After three years, the Google Search Appliance stops working [google.com] and you have to buy a new one. Really. That's Google's approach to enterprise support. That won't fly with Motorola's customer base.

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