David Zax

A View from David Zax

Could Your Next Cable Company Be Google?

The search giant considers bringing its gigantism to a realm beyond search: cable TV.

  • November 8, 2011

Last week, I told you about Google’s reboot of its internet-connected TV (named, appropriately, Google TV). A software update made Google TV easier to use, and added an element of a “leanback” experience to watching YouTube channels, among other things.

The Wall Street Journal is now reporting an even more intriguing move that the search giant is mulling in the TV space. Google is apparently looking beyond internet-connected TVs–which most often complements traditional cable–and thinking about hopping into the cable business itself. That’s right: if the WSJ’s sources aren’t hallucinating or lying, then Google could be considering going head-to-head with cable providers like AT&T and Comcast.

If it happens, it would happen first in Kansas City, the city which Google has chosen to pilot Google Fiber, which the Kansas City Star describes as “the California-based Internet behemoth’s plan to connect virtually every home with fiber optic cables,” glass wires that can funnel more data than coaxial cables or telephone wires (a gigabit per second for uploads and downloads; in other words, orders of magnitudes faster than what you’re currently operating with). Google has largely kept mum about its plans in Kansas City since first announcing last spring that it had chosen the city as its test site (it will be laying fiber optic cables in both Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS). And Google is still keeping mum; it’s only response to the Journal’s story was to say, “We’re still exploring what product offerings will be available when we launch Google Fiber.”

Does the leap into cable TV make sense? It certainly could be lucrative–Mashable points out that Google could sell not only cable subscriptions but also advertisements distributed on its channels. But obviously, it’s all something that’s easier said than done (and, to judge from Google’s silence, isn’t even easily said). As MediaBeat reminds us, “To become a full-fledged paid TV operator, Google will need more than a handful of partners on-board. Those negotiations may be difficult, since many content providers spurned Google last year by blocking access to Google TV on their websites.” Google’s undoubtedly getting better at negotiating with content providers, though; it recently announced that it’d be launching dozens of new YouTube channels featuring original content, backed by the likes of Jay-Z and Amy Poehler. If Google’s learning to become a media company, couldn’t it learn to become a cable company, too?

“Wonderful things happen when cool technology meets great entertainment,” Google’s Global Head of Content Partnerships, Robert Kyncl, wrote in late October. Though you have to wonder how “wonderful” that convergence seems to Time Warner Cable, which currently serves cable to the Kansas City area.

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