The Evidence That Google Is Plotting to Take Over Your TV

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In recent weeks, clues have been popping up all over the news: The search-engine giant wants a piece of the television action.

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Over the past two weeks, a series of tantalizing clues about Google's interest in conquering TV have appeared in the news.

A look at the evidence:

1. The Motorola Purchase: Bloggers have written extensively about all the patents Google is getting in buying Motorola Mobile. Less noticed is Motorola's set-top box business, one of the two top producers in the U.S. market (the other is a division of Cisco). If Google doesn't sell the set-top box division (as some have speculated they will), these boxes could be the leverage Google needs to get cable companies to cooperate with a product that combines broadcast TV, Internet streaming, on-demand content, and social networking (something akin to Pandora's feature of sharing customized channels).

2. Google's Rumored Interest in Hulu: A purchase of Hulu, the on-demand TV-show and movie streaming site, would represent a bid to work more closely with networks and other content creators, as The Atlantic Wire reported yesterday. Bids are due tomorrow.

3. Google TV's New Compatibility with Android Apps: Google announced yesterday that developers could begin building Android apps for TV. Since most apps for phones rely on the touch-screen user interface -- something TVs don't have -- developers will be starting mostly from scratch on imagining the possibilities of the TV-Android combination.

It's not clear how -- or whether -- these different gambits fit together. But it makes sense that Google has its sights set on your TV. Americans spend an average of 2.7 hours per day watching TV. That's about as much time as they spend on all other leisure activities combined.

Additionally, TV advertising does not have nearly the precision (and therefor lacks the efficiency) of Google's targeted ads. There is a lot of money to be made if Google could apply its advertising strategy to the many ads people view on TV.

Google may be ready for TV but it remains to be seen whether TV is ready for Google. Google TV hasn't fared well and cable companies are said to be wary of Google's entrance into their turf. And despite people's complaints that there's never anything good to watch on TV, the hours they spend watching it anyway tell it a different story.

In the end, Google may not rule our TVs the way it rules our Internet experience. And that makes sense: TV is a far less open field than the Internet was when Larry Page and Sergey Brin began tinkering with a search algorithm in 1996. Perhaps none of Google's forays into TV will pan out, but Google has a lot to gain if even just a few do.

Image: Reuters.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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