It’s natural that Google would want to get inside 80% of American TVs via the set-top box. Microsoft has been trying that since the late 1990s, with little success. The real question: Will any of TV’s gatekeepers — Comcast (CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (TWC) , DirecTV (DTV), EchoStar (DISH), and the rest of the cable business — hand over the keys to the greatest trove of American consumer data ever assembled?
They might. But first Google would have to prove that it can do what cable/satellite either can’t or won’t: Efficiently crunch the vast clickstream emitted from the nation’s remotes and directly target advertising on a one-to-one basis. That would allowing the cable/satellite operators to replace the TV networks as the dominant force in TV advertising.
Some operators are already turning over this data both to Nielsen, which is working with GoogleTV, and to Portland, Ore.-based Rentrak, which has deals with Charter and other operators to collect and measure 500,000 set-tops around the country. Interestingly, Rentrak collects VOD data from 45 million set-tops across the country, but the operators still own the data and (perhaps wisely) limit its use.
Google in the box, of course could mean as-yet unseen search and Web functions for TV. But the way they’d make it worth Comcast’s while is to target ads on an individual level, bringing a level of accuracy and accountability that trumps even the Internet. Then Comcast, Time Warner, et al could begin collecting a bigger chunk of TV advertising’s $70 billion pie.