Google TV & The Emerging EPG (Electronic Program Guide) War

With the much anticipated launch of Google TV next month on Sony and Logitech devices, its getting crowded in the OTT (Over The Top) TV market.  With CE (Consumer Electronics) manufacturers, middleware vendors, operators, web-based service providers, content owners, and a vast array of start-ups rushing to confuse the customer.  I covered this in an extensive 114 page report on Hybrid TV and OTT TV earlier this year, based on that report I recently gave an intensive two day course (700+ slides) in South Africa – the African market is very interesting and overlooked by many in the industry.

For those customers with Verizon FiOS, or Xbox, or PS3, or Wii, or Apple TV connected to their TV many of the services in Google TV are not new:

  • Browsing (not ideal on a TV given the viewing distance, using a tablet or laptop is so much easier);
  • VoD (the core value of interactive TV, though search and discovery are not ideal compared to browsing on a tablet or laptop);
  • Apps / games (OK, but they’re more focused than apps on a smartphone or tablet, e.g. BBC iPlayer on the Wii);
  • Search (OK, but not the same as on a PC, tablet, or smartphone for the same reason browsing is not ideal);
  • Photos (good for showing the grandparents the latest pictures of the kids) and;
  • Music (OK but not generally the first or second choice for playing music.)

But Google TV is going one step beyond the above list, it wants to the EPG (Electronic Program Guide) of choice.  Think of it as your landing page on the TV.  An EPG covering your recorded content (stuff you’ve paid for in one way or another and view when convenient to you), your recommended content (both free and paid for), content search, and broadcast listings across all media; i.e. video, music, photos, games, etc.

So rather than your cable or satellite EPG being your first stop when turning on the TV, the aim of Google is to make it Google TV; whether it resides as middleware on your TV or a separate STB.  For TiVo customers who tend to watch recorded content (the time-poor) this will be nothing new, only a much slicker user experience.

So the emerging battle will be between EPGs on TVs, DVRs, PayTV STBs and dedicated devices.  The winner will decided by the customer based on which EPG is the easiest to use and delivers the best value.  TiVo will need to step up its game.  The CE manufacturers have traditionally struggled with user experience, just try navigating the set-up menus on most HDTVs; so they will likely in the end partner with a middleware solution from Google, Microsoft, Apple or an independent vendor such as Espial.  Most of the start-ups will fall by the way-side as they lack CE manufacturer adoption, building the device yourself will not break out beyond a niche of tech-savvy early adopters as we’ve seen many times over the passed decades with internet connected devices, mobile phones, etc. – so exit soon.

Through 2011-2015 will be the era of EPG Wars.  Its not going to be a quick battle for a number of reasons: it requires customers to change behavior in how they consume content (we change habits slowly), and it requires the customer to buy either a new TV or yet another box to connect to the TV.

The other factor entering the mix is a real wild-card: we’re now seeing society realize the difference between being a paying customer and being ‘a means to an end.’  For example, Google’s customers are the advertisers, we are a means to an end, so Android can use knowledge that we’re at home for advertisers – that’s one of the reasons I do not use Android.  With something as personal as TV viewing habits, is that really something most people will happily expose?

The EPG war will be long fought.  Content owners will be the winners as multiple channels to market weaken the channels and the margin they can command.  Customers will split into many different consumption models based on their preferences, stage of life, and which TV in the home is being used.  The bulk of consumers will continue to watch free-to-air or broadcast PayTV.  We’ll likely see people who adopt interactive TV use multiple EPGs.  The North American market will be quite different to the rest of the world.  Operators can have a role in this emerging EPG war beyond content delivery, though Google has that one covered; however, they need to get serious about being a service provider in their local market rather than just a pipe provider.

4 thoughts on “Google TV & The Emerging EPG (Electronic Program Guide) War

  1. Ronan

    Who is Google TV using for the TV listings (EPG) data?
    There are copyright issues around web scraping (search indexing!) program listings information.

  2. Alan Quayle

    Great question Ronan, I was thinking whether I should open up that can of worms in the article. Its currently not elegant for the US, the free to air listings are fine, through Google’s content partnerships with some of the TV Networks they can also get access to some listings, for recording content (e.g. season passes) they’re good, and it can be a transparent pass through to the PayTV EPG underneath. Or they could go the cablecard route in the US, but that would depend on the box they’re for which they’re middleware. The bottom-line is as a customer’s TV consumption moves to program selection rather than channel-surfing, the listings becomes a smaller component of the EPG. But only for those interactive TV centric customers. The bulk of customers in the world will remain free to air and broadcast PayTV centric for many years to come.


    I believe this move by Google makes a lot of sense. By using the EPG as the landing page for TV, Google can track user behavior patterns by recording shows the subscriber selects to watch, how long they watch, and other important factors that will undoubtedly become part of the wealth of information they make searchable. This of course will then enable them to provide more focused and customized content for the subscriber based on that knowledge. This, to me, is just an extension of what they already do best.

  4. Alan Quayle

    I find most of the classified ads Google provides irrelevant. However, Amazon does understand me and provides relevant recommendations in videos (both paid for and on demand,) books, music and other stuff. Google has a long way to go to align with its users not its advertisers.

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