November 12, 2010

The Stream of Fear: The Real Reason They're Blocking Google TV

Blog Update (November 24, 2010): How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks

Greetings. In How They're Blocking Google TV and Users as Toast: The Blocking of Google TV, I discussed some of the technical details of online networks' blocking of Google TV (GTV), and some of the reasons why such blocking is unacceptable.

But I haven't really talked about why the networks (Hulu, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, SyFy, and others) are engaging in this discriminatory process in the first place.

Google for its part continues a diplomatic "content owners control who views their content" mantra. As I've previously discussed, this is an understandable tack. After all, if such disputes can be settled in mutually agreeable ways, the hassle factor is greatly reduced.

However, even when such agreements are possible, they may also serve to validate unfair and/or discriminatory practices that are normally unacceptable in other contexts of our lives -- and that can spell trouble for the Internet and its users in the long run.

What the broadcast networks are doing to Google TV reminds me of Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second of his kick attempt.

More ominously, think of the landlord who was all set to rent over the phone, but upon meeting you and seeing your skin color, or your piercings and tattoos, or whatever -- suddenly turns out to have rented to someone else.

Now obviously I'm not elevating the blocking of Google TV to the level of traditional civil rights concerns -- but there's an important principle at work here -- the right of consumers not be held hostage by corporate fear mongering.

And fear is at the heart of Google TV blocking.

Google TV buyers are being blocked not simply because the device permits viewing on big screens -- you can already do that with many PCs. And contrary to popular speculation, I don't believe that the generally lower ad rates associated with the online versions of shows, and concerns about cable and U-verse, et al., subscribers "cutting the cord," is at the heart of the matter either.

If such were really the main concerns, they would apply equally to conventional, non-Google TV online viewers, and blocking wouldn't be directed mainly at GTV.

Market share concerns don't make sense either, especially for already compatible hardware/software and free viewing, rendering nonsensical the claim of at least one network that they're blocking since Google TV represents "too small a market to support." That's just bull.

No, it's about fear. Raw, pure fear. It's about seeing the old broadcast TV business models starting to drift away, and floundering around trying to preserve the status quo as much as possible -- in the process pounding sharp sticks into their viewers' eyes.

There are murmurs that the broadcast networks just don't trust Google. They whisper off the record their fears that Google will devise some new monetization system that will put the networks at a disadvantage. Of course, any PC or browser could be used to display ads or monetize, not just Google TV -- but Google is always an attractive target in the best traditions of "whipping boy" logic.

Well I have news. The traditional broadcasters are already at a disadvantage. A big one. A growing one. The world is changing around them rapidly. Their exclusivity as major video providers is slipping away like grains of sand from a closed fist.

What really concerns the broadcast networks is the ramifications of Google's mission statement:

"Google’s mission is to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Those fifteen words trigger awesome fear in many quarters. They are world-changing in effect, and the source both of Google's greatness and the various controversies that arise from some Google projects -- all aspects of the firm that I've been discussing for years.

The reason why organized information, and universal access to information, is so scary and disruptive of old models, is that with access and organization comes equality. Not always, and not automatically, but information is a necessary foundational aspect of equality -- and restrictions on information have been used throughout history to control and subjugate.

Google TV terrifies the mainstream industry because, really for the first time, it demonstrates the positive impact on consumers that comes with providing essentially equal access both to conventional television viewing and Internet video.

Searches on Google TV treat both of these traditionally separate media as a unified universe, making it just as easy to find and view a video from a vast array of Internet sources as it is to locate and watch a program on cable channel 300 -- at least assuming that the potential viewer isn't being blocked!

Artificial distinctions -- the results of technology, policies, and politics -- between "The Broadcasters" and "The Net" suddenly fade away. The range of convenient, seamless viewing possibilities is enormously expanded, even including the ability to find videos based on information in their captions.

Keeping in mind that most people receive their conventional TV and Internet over the same physical cables anyway, this level of organization, access, usefulness, and most of all equality, is arriving none too soon.

Therein lies the heart of the matter. The old guard of broadcasting -- as is typically the case -- wants to preserve its advantage at all costs -- even when this means essentially telling potential viewers to go jump into a lake for -- horrors! -- even daring to try use Google TV.

In our next installment on this topic, we'll explore some possible paths forward, including potential ways that Internet users may wish to consider fighting back.


Blog Update (November 24, 2010): How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks

Posted by Lauren at November 12, 2010 11:44 AM | Permalink
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