Google Inc. is attempting to answer the increasingly difficult question posed by television viewers faced with hundreds of programming choices: What should I watch?
At the company's developer conference Thursday in San Francisco, Google predicted it would "change the future of television" with an effort to bring order to programming chaos in the same way that it organized the fire hose of information on the Web.
Known as Google TV, the new television platform would allow viewers to access Internet content on their televisions in addition to traditional broadcast and cable programming. Despite bringing even more choice to the mix, Google is pitching the initiative as an easier way for audiences to find television shows and Internet content through a single search box instead of fumbling with remotes and clumsy on-screen programming guides.
The first television sets, Blu-ray players and companion set-top boxes will go on sale this fall through partnerships with chipmaker Intel Corp., electronics giant Sony Corp. and device-maker Logitech.
"As other technologies have evolved and changed, TV has remained the same," Rishi Chandra, the project leader, told 5,000 developers gathered for the conference. "Video should be consumed on the biggest, best and brightest screen in the house, and that is a TV."
The heart of the platform is a single search box that would allow viewers to find what they are looking for on television and the Web, using a special remote control with a built-in keyboard. A hunt for the show "House" displays not only episodes available on USA and Fox but those for purchase on Amazon Video on Demand.
But it remains to be seen whether consumers who have shown little interest in surfing the Web on their televisions would be persuaded to buy the new Google TV-equipped Sony Bravia televisions and Blu-ray players or to add a companion set-top box that connects to the Internet. Google would also have to persuade other television manufacturers to follow Sony's lead.
"Although Google has assembled an impressive array of partners, individually they represent only a fraction of their particular markets," wrote Colin Dixon, a senior partner for researcher the Diffusion Group.
Cost could also be a major stumbling block as recession-weary consumers avoid big purchases. Google and its partners declined to disclose prices. But Google is betting buyers will want to make the investment.
Best Buy Chief Executive Brian Dunn, who joined top executives from Google's other partners in Thursday's announcement, called Google TV the natural evolution of what's already happening in consumers' living rooms.
"This is the first seamless experience that I've see that actually allows the source to be agnostic," Dunn said. "It opens up an entirely new category."
Devices designed to bring the Web to TV have been less than rousing successes.
The earliest and best-known of these attempts, Web TV, which displayed Internet pages and e-mail on the television screen, got plenty of notice when it debuted in 1996. But few consumers showed a willingness to use a wireless keypad, rather than a remote, to control the living room TV, or the patience to wait for a website to appear via sluggish dial-up connections.
Powered by its lucrative online advertising business, Google is looking to expand into other areas. It has broadened its reach into smart phones, and now it's aiming for television advertising, which it says is a $70-billion opportunity.
For Sony, the alliance with Google is an opportunity to pull out of the broader tailspin in the television market, in which shoppers go for bargains and are far less loyal to established brands.