It seemed that, just months ago, our newfound love affair with connected TVs was in full swing. All indications suggested consumers were ready to embrace these new gadgets for their smarts, connections and being handy around the house.
But that was before two pieces of news gave us cause to question whether our new living room mates are who we thought they were.
The first story was an apparent indication by Google that the company may have released half-baked software into the market: Google is now telling hardware partners to pull back on big CES plans for devices featuring Google TV. Then there was news that researchers discovered that Internet connected TVs were vulnerable to potential security risks — in a test with a smart TV from what is apparently Panasonic, the researchers were able to intercept credit card information.
Both of these are reason for concern for those invested in the belief that online video platforms are ready to make a serious dent in the traditional pay-TV model. Let’s look at each incident more closely for what their implications really mean.
Google TV Retreat
The Google TV pullback is a big deal, mostly because consumer-electronics makers have been burnt before by large software players and disappointing sales for convergence products. Microsoft, for instance, is famous for its half-hearted and erratic behavior around connected device software platforms. To not follow in the same footsteps, Google needs to be careful not to gain a reputation for disrupting large-scale product ramp-ups.
The early indications out of the hardware partner camp is that device makers will likely press on with or without Google. Internally, however, there is likely some annoyance — and possibly some very frank conversations — with Google about how CE manufacturers need to be able to rely on their partners, particularly as they head into product launch season.
Smart-TV Security Vulnerability
Perhaps the bigger concern for the smart TV space is news that the platforms could be vulnerable to security threats. While anyone familiar networks and the Internet may find this unsurprising, it’s important to remember that pay-TV hardware is built around robust security and encryption technology that has been decades in the making. The mere whiff of potential security issues for these new breeds of smart-TVs could give both content providers and consumers concern about their privacy as well as payment information — and hinder the market’s potential in the process.
The Bottom Line
Given the sheer momentum of OTT and the interest of CE manufacturers, chances are Google will be forgiven for its recent unsteadiness. CE manufacturers like Sony and Sharp are notoriously software-challenged, and they know that using Google’s software could be necessary in the face of threats from Apple, Roku, Microsoft and Boxee.
The security issue is one that, while likely not creating too much concern today, should be addressed in a broad way by the industry. Consumers are just now beginning to dip their toe in the smart tv waters; the last thing the industry needs to derail a nascent but fast-growing market is a PR issue on security. This is particularly true if service providers take a political-party approach and start making a mountain of a molehill as they look to combat threats to their entrenched video business franchises.