Not shown: third line reading 'TV decides it doesn't like Web so much.' Photo by dailylifeofmojo on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Google TV is struggling. Already. The New York Times reports that Google has asked TV makers who were planning to show it off at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show (in the first week of January) have been asked to hold back from showing it off so that the software can be refined following its definitely lukewarm reception from reviewers.
Not being at CES is a big setback for Google TV as a concept: it's the traditional place to show off your wares and set up what you're going to do in the year ahead. For the TV makers - Sony, Toshiba, LG Electronics, Sharp - which were going to wow the world (they hoped) with their Google TV-running wares, it's a slap in the face.
Quick flashback to May: Google suggested that it would bring you as much TV as you could search for, and do it interactively.
The question now is whether Google is going to fall into the chasm that has swallowed so many internet TV efforts. Remember Microsoft's WebTV? No? Or how about the more recent efforts by Joost? An archaeologist of the internet could probably find dozens of internet TV efforts, but none has come to anything much. Google thought it could do differently, but it ran first into the problem of how different TV screens and computer screens are (one far away, one close) and second that the interaction mode is so different - which means you don't want to type web addresses.
Plus there was the problem that in the US, which is the only place that Google TV launched, the networks froze it out: in mid-November Fox joined ABC, NBC and CBS in refusing to let Google TV devices access their sites and hence streaming services. Possibly Google didn't expect that bit when it announced Google TV with much triumphalism back in the summer. (You can call the networks "dinosaurs" if you like, but they could point out that if they're such dinosaurs, why is Google so keen to access their stuff?)
GTVHub ("your source for everything Google TV") hadn't caught on the NYT story over the weekend, and was instead reporting that Google is planning to extend movie streaming in 2011 - perhaps with an announcement at CES. Well, no.
But the Google TV effort shows Google once again struggling to come up with a coherent product launch. True, TV is perenially difficult to do. But Google is also being criticised for throwing so many ideas against the wall to see which ones stick, because after a few (hello goodbye Google Wave, hello Google Buzz are you going?) it starts to look unfocussed, and if you have something which really requires management focus, such as TV - where getting the deals lined up is essential - then it looks amateurish to mess it up.
Or as one analyst put it to the NYT:
"'Google as a company is not a particularly partner-friendly or partner-focused company,' said James L. McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, who added that because of the delay, it might take another year before Google TV has a chance to catch fire."
Samsung will be showing two Google TV appliances, and Vizio will display them, but privately away from the show floor. (We'll hunt them down...)
And it seems the punters haven't been enthralled: the NYT looks at the Amazon ratings and finds that nearly one in five buyers gave their Google TV gear just one star, complaining of slow performance and limited features.
Until now, Google has been able to assume that content acquisition is easy - though you might have thought that the long drawn-out row over its scanning of copyrighted books might have taught it to be more careful.
McQuivey reckons the company needs to learn how to charm its potential partners - on the content side too. As he told the NYT:
"Google needs to learn some of those abilities — both in terms of partnerships with broadcasters and working with hardware partners," he said. "You can give me the recipe for the absolute best chocolate chip cookies in the world, but until I put the ingredients together and bake them at exactly the right temperature for the right time, they're not cookies, and that's where Google TV is."
In short, the UK may well just get ahead of the US via iPlayer and YouView. But don't hold your breath for Google TV.