December 17, 2010
Google Inc.'s drive to bring the Internet to living-room TVs and generate fresh advertising sales is being threatened by the failure to obtain popular shows such as "Glee" and "NCIS."
CBS Corp. Chief Executive Officer Leslie Moonves and Chase Carey, the No. 2 executive at Fox parent News Corp., say after months of talks they're in no hurry to let Google TV offer shows via the Web for free. They say there have been no lucrative offers and they aren't sure of the search company's intentions.
The four major networks are blocking Google TV viewers from watching shows that consumers readily see on the Web with PCs out of fear they'll lose ads, re-run revenue and fees from pay- TV systems. The standoff complicates efforts by Mountain View, California-based Google to gain a foothold in traditional TV, where global ad sales of $180 billion this year will be triple those of the Web, according to ZenithOptimedia Group Ltd.
"The mother lode is network advertising and syndication," Moonves said in an interview at a conference in New York. "Do I want to jeopardize that -- yet -- for a couple of bucks?"
Google aims to create the dominant search tool for TV viewers, with software providing links to TV listings, movies, online video services, music and photos, and traditional browsing with search ads. Sony Corp. began selling TVs starting at $600 and $400 Blu-ray players equipped with Google TV in October. Logitech International SA offers a $300 set-top box with Google TV as the main interface.
The owner of the world's most popular search engine is trying to stake that claim without being able to offer shows available at CBS's TV.com, the networks' own Web pages and Hulu, the site owned by General Electric Co.'s NBC, News Corp. and ABC parent Walt Disney Co.
One sticking point is ads, which accounted for 63 percent of the $13 billion in revenue last year at New York-based CBS.
Prime-time shows seen over the Internet have about four minutes of ads per hour, compared with 16 minutes on broadcast. That suggests networks lose about 75 percent of sales per viewer when programs are seen on the Web instead of TV, said Laura Martin, a Los Angeles-based analyst for Needham & Co.
Media companies will find Google doesn't want to undermine their business, said Rishi Chandra, who oversees the product for Google. The service uses the Internet to supplement TV, and the company is focused on making it easier to use -- following criticism by reviewers -- not advertising.
No 'Magical Solution'
"It's going to take time," Chandra said in an interview. "I don't think there's any magical solution that's going to happen right away. Our job from a platform basis is to make sure that we support all the different business models that they want to support."
The networks say Google hasn't presented a plan to close the ad-sales gap or fully explained its business. They are mindful of losses the music and newspaper industries sustained online. They can avoid that fate if they refuse to give products away or sell them too cheaply, according to analyst Martin.
"We need to understand better what they're going to do," Carey, chief operating officer at New York-based News Corp., said in an interview.
Carey wouldn't say if News Corp. is seeking upfront payments for its programs. To get support, Google needs to explain how ad sales will be shared and what steps will be taken to block pirated content, he said.
Google fell 91 cents to $590.80 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have declined 4.7 percent this year.
The high cost of producing network TV shows makes it tough to satisfy the media companies even with highly targeted ads that may sell at higher prices, said Lance Koenders, director of marketing for digital home at Intel Corp., which makes the chips for Google TV devices.
"I don't know that you ever get to the point where advertising can pay all of the bills," Koenders said. "I don't think by any stretch are we done with this product."
Google TV may not get far without current fare from the networks, said Michael Morris, a Richmond, Virginia-based analyst with Davenport & Co.
"The difference between having high-quality content and not having it is the difference between having a mass-adopted product and having a niche product," Morris said.
With companies like Google, Apple Inc. and Netflix Inc. vying for popular shows and movies, the networks and Hollywood studios are reaching agreements to pipe more of their products to TVs through the Internet.
Time Warner Strategy
Disney, based in Burbank, California, agreed last week to supply some cable and broadcast programs to Los Gatos, California-based Netflix, the online and DVD subscription service. The terms weren't disclosed.
"Hollywood owns the content and they won't change their business model just to accommodate one company," said Anthony DiClemente, an analyst at Barclays Capital in New York. "At some point Google will have to decide whether it wants to be in the television business."
Time Warner Inc.'s HBO premium channel, which is commercial free, and the TNT and TBS cable networks, which rely less on advertising than broadcasters, let customers who already have pay-TV subscriptions use Google TV to watch their shows.
Moonves said CBS isn't in formal negotiations with Google, which isn't offering to pay for shows. His executives regularly talk to
companies including Google, Netflix and Hulu, and he's content to see how Google TV evolves without CBS shows.
"The trains are not leaving the station," Moonves said. "'Uh-oh, if you don't join fill in the blank -- Apple TV, Google TV, Netflix -- today, it's not going to be there tomorrow.' Yes, it is. They're going to want our stuff."
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