We all had a good laugh at Eric Schmidt’s harpooning of the Lord Sugar, the well-known property tycoon.
How silly of Sugar to turn down an Apprentice candidate because he was an Engineer for goodness sake.
After all, noted the Google executive chairman, reverting to the stiletto, we haven’t done so badly.
Schmidt, one of the many engineers at the top of Google, obviously gained his biggest headlines from his MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh International Television Festival with his entirely sensible appeal for the UK to bridge the gulf between the arts and sciences. It is an appeal echoed frequently by Prof Brian Cox, another Edinburgh star, who likes to point out in a rather perplexed way how BBC types from the arts side of the trenches feel comfortable almost boasting about their total ignorance of science.
There is nothing new under the sun. The somewhat faded novelist C.P.Snow highlighted the issue in his Two Cultures lecture in 1959.
Changing attitudes of TV producers might help a little but only education secretary Michael Gove could actually do anything about the undoubted problem with dramatic changes to the curriculum.
Under Schmidt’s big tent argument there were a number of much more contentious issues – such as the launch of Google TV.
Naturally in everything it does Google seeks to advance the cause of humanity and the common good –while making honest billions along the way.
Lord Grade could not have been more wrong when he denounced Google as a “parasite.”
Rupert Murdoch was of course totally mistaken when he elaborated on the parasite theme by describing the company as “a tapeworm in the internet.”
And how silly of former Channel 4 chief executive Andy Duncan to even suggest that Google took more revenue out of the UK than ITV’s total earnings.
It was therefore totally daft for anyone to fear the arrival of Google TV in Europe early next year with the UK “well among the top priorities.”
It was complete nonsense for silly players, such as the US networks, to think that Google was about to compete with them and start creating its own content.
If that were to happen, all you would get, said the self-effacing Schmidt, would be a lot of bad sci-fi movies.
No, the point was to create an open platform for the next generation of TV to evolve rather as the creation of the Smart Phone platform had sparked a whole new era of innovation, said Schmidt oozing both natural and choreographed charm.
Beware someone who smiles at you that much, was the immediate comment of one media academic after the lecture.
The fear surrounding the arrival of Google TV is understandable. The company is so big, so rich and so ambitious.
In football terms think Manchester City and quadruple it. Google has the resources to build or buy anything its wants.
Except there might just be a bit of a flaw in Eric Schmidt’s big argument. Britain’s broadcasters may indeed be stuffed too full of arts graduates but Google may have too many engineers in power positions for its own good.
As Ken Auletta argued in “Googled: The End of the World As We Know It” there has often been a naivety about the engineers of Google.
There is an admirable “can do” approach in inventing things but that nevertheless often fails to take account of what impact their innovations will have, how consumers perceive them and sometimes a disinterest in whether or not they will make money.
Lets assume that Google TV destroys the financial models of the original content creators of Europe.
Gee we’re really sorry that really wasn’t our intention at all, would be the likely response.
Luckily we don’t have to have any worries on that score. The launch of Google TV could turn out to be a dead duck – one of Google’s imaginative clunkers.
Such a judgement is based not just on an optimistic whim.
As Google would expect there is intellectual rigour and proper research behind it.
Nigel Walley, chief executive of Decipher, who tests all new boxes, tellies, media revolutions to destruction has put the new Google TV box through its paces at his Chiswick headquarters and found it seriously wanting.
According to Walley there is actually little new or imaginative about Google TV.
Unless you buy a television set with an integrated Google TV box – and there is no sign they exist so far- Google TV will be add-on to any set-top box (STB) rather than a replacement. It has no TV tuner in it so therefore can’t receive broadcast TV.
As Walley notes: “When you get it out of the box it asks you which STB you want to use with Google TV, and goes off to find the right EPG data. You then have to run the ‘out’ cable from your existing STB into the Google box, rather than directly into your TV.
The Decipher chief executive adds: “ Then there is anther cable that comes out of Google TV into your screen carrying the combined Google and STB data. Most consumers will have lost the will to live by this point.”
The benefits of the Google TV set-up?
It opens up your TV to any website rather than the limited list that other companies are letting into their devices and it allows TV web players to integrate with Android apps.
The overall verdict of Decipher?
Unless there is a miraculous re-design it is likely that Google TV’s flaws, including its inability to integrate web sites with broadcast channels, will outweigh its benefits.
Maybe Google should bring in some of those highly creative British “luvvies” to advise the Google “geeks.”
Apart from giving Lord Sugar his just deserts Eric Schmidt was spot on in targetting the UK’s regulators, in particular the Competition Commission which blocked Project Kangaroo.
Schmidt was rendered almost speechless by the concept that the potentially world beating concept was done to death because it might have been too successful.
Even if YouView meets its revised 2012 deadline several years had been lost – the equivalent of an eternity in the fast-moving world of regulators.
Mazel Tov to Britain’s regulators.
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