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Google TV plan is causing jitters in Hollywood

Many worry that Silicon Valley will upend the entertainment industry just like the Internet ravaged the music and newspaper industries.

August 17, 2010|By Dawn C. Chmielewski and Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times

Google revolutionized the way people access information. Now it wants to transform how people get entertainment.

Google TV: An earlier online version of this article said a demonstration of Google TV for a network executive showed how users could access BitTorrent, a major source of bootleg TV shows and movies. A Google spokesman said that no such demonstration took place. In addition, the final version of the article in print and online said Google sells search terms for online advertising to the highest bidder through an auction system. Factors in addition to price are used to determine winning bids, such as an ad's relevancy to the search term. The story also said Google TV refuses to block access to bootleg movies and television shows. Google says Google TV will not support access to downloads of pirated movies and TV shows but will not filter out sites that offer pirated video streams.

The search giant is touting an ambitious new technology, called Google TV, that would marry the Internet with traditional television, enabling viewers to watch TV shows and movies unshackled from the broadcast networks or cable channels on which they air. Users would need to buy a TV or set-top box with Google software that could connect to the Internet, along with a keyboard to type commands. Users could also use their iPhone or Android phone to operate Google TV.

The prospect of Google getting into television frightens many in Hollywood, who worry that Silicon Valley will upend the entertainment industry just like the Internet ravaged the music and newspaper industries.

By bringing the Web directly to the living room TV, entertainment industry executives fear Google TV will encourage consumers to ditch their $70 monthly cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of watching video free via the Internet.

Others believe it will fan piracy because Google refuses to block access to bootleg movies and television shows.

And, perhaps most troubling to Hollywood, Google doesn't yet know how it will make money on Google TV — and whether it intends to compensate the studios and networks for the content.

"It's kind of an end-run around their control of signal, and that's scary," said Harold Vogel, president of media investment firm Vogel Capital Management, of broadcasters' response to Google TV. "Because if you don't control the signal, then you can't provide your own advertising. It really destroys the legacy business model."

Google sees its role as harnessing the power of the Internet to improve television viewing. It's an opportunity, company project managers argue, for the movie studios and television networks to use the limitless storage capacity of the Web to make their libraries of programs available whenever someone wants to watch an old episode of "All in the Family" or classic films such as "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The concept is simple. Google TV uses Google's expertise in search to cull through viewing options — both in the traditional program lineups and through online services such as Hulu, or even a network's own website — and then displays them on the TV set, just as a browser finds information on the Web.

"We want to use the Internet to change the television experience," said Vincent Dureau, Google's head of TV technology. "There's no secret plan. We're not designing a rocket that's going to the moon. At the end of the day, the story's simple. We're putting a browser in the TV to enable a whole bunch of things that the studios and the networks are already doing today, but in a less disjointed fashion."

Lazard Capital Markets media analyst Barton Crockett predicts Internet video will be the biggest thing to happen in the living room since the advent of digital video recorders. Within five years, television sets and set-top boxes that connect to the Web will be commonplace, he said.

That represents a potential boon to content creators, as distributors pay substantial sums for the right to stream movies and TV shows to subscribers, Crockett said. Consider the five-year, $900-million deal subscription service Netflix Inc. struck last week with fledgling pay-TV channel Epix to offer movies via the Web from Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Lionsgate within 90 days of opening in theaters.

"I understand being scared of Google. They are big, smart, powerful and disruptive. It makes them scary from the moment they enter the room," Crockett said. "But they also represent the future."

The two-man team leading the Google TV effort — Dureau and Rishi Chandra — say they believe technological innovation can make television better and more profitable for everyone.

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