Google is privately testing a television set-top box that lets users search satellite TV programming as well as video websites like its very own YouTube, according to a new report.
Citing "people familiar with the matter," The Wall Street Journal reports that Mountain View is testing this Google software-powered set-top box in tandem with satellite TV provider Dish Network and that the tests are limited to a small number of Google employees and their families.
According to the paper, the service also lets users "personalize a lineup of shows," and searches are done from a keyboard rather than remote control. Google hopes, the paper says, to plug the service into its fledgling Google TV Ads program, which lets marketing types serve television advertising from their online Google AdWords accounts. This would allow Google to target ads not only based on viewing habits but searches as well.
The WSJ said, however, that the service could be discontinued at any time.
It's no secret that Google has long hoped to reinvent television using its online search and ad expertise. As far back as the summer of 2007, when it launched its TV ads program, the company said that its internet know-how could save traditional TV types from DVRs and an increasingly fragmented audience. "A lot of the recipes and lessons that work on the web can actually apply to TV," Google head of TV technology Vincent Dureau told a Silicon Valley audience that summer, arguing that things like audience fragmentation and ad skipping are actually good news for the television industry.
"You can actually make more money, because you can increase the relevancy of your ads," he said. "You can cut down on the number of ads - and still reach more people. At the end of the day, you're changing the attitude of the consumer. They've reached a point where they expect the ad to be relevant and they're more likely to watch it."
Google now sells ads for over 100 cable TV networks.
If Google does follow the likes of Microsoft and Apple into the set-top box market, you can be sure that the company will do so in tandem with a hardware partner. With the release of the Google-branded Nexus One Android, the company showed a pathological aversion to anyone calling it a hardware manufacturer.
With Google reportedly partnering with The Dish Network on its tests, it would seem that the company's strategy is to get its software onto TV provider boxes rather than sell a box of its own. That, of course, is the way it began in the phone business - before muscling further into the market with the Nexus One.
Third-party developers are already developing set-top boxes using Android, Google's open source mobile OS. ®