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Google’s Android TV Wants to Turn Every App Into a TV Channel

ABC, CBS and… TED?

Google has a new plan to surface online video on TV: Publishers of internet video apps can now add linear channels of programming to the company’s Android TV platform, where these channels are going to be available in the same program grid also used to navigate broadcast TV networks.

The new initiative, dubbed Android TV Channels, is being unveiled at Google’s I/O developer conference in San Francisco Thursday. Launch partners include TED, Vevo, the Huffington Post, Bloomberg, the Weather Network, AOL, Pluto, and and the European live-TV streaming service Zattoo.

Owners of an Android TV device can add these channels to their lineup by selecting them in the Play app store on their device. After that, these channels will be listed right next to the traditional TV channels from broadcasters like ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox when accessed through the live TV interface of Android TVs that companies like Sony and Sharp started to sell in recent weeks. Consumers will be able to channel-surf broadcast TV networks and online sources, which should make for a much more TV-like viewing experience of online video content.

Google isn’t the first one to experiment with incorporating online content into the traditional program grid; DVR maker TiVo has begun to add Netflix and other apps to its TV guide in select markets. However, Google’s approach for Android TV goes a lot further: The company is asking participating online video providers to actually program their channels in a linear fashion, complete with primetime slots and presumably also lots of early-morning repeats.

Publishers can also add their own ads to their programming, and videos are still available through dedicated apps as well, allowing consumers to explore a publisher’s entire catalog and catch up on shows they may have missed on a linear channel.

These kinds of linear online video can include live programming, but Google’s Android TV product manager Allen Huang suggested during a recent briefing that they could also work well for catch-up content catering to a specific niche of super-fans. Some viewers would love to have a channel that just broadcasts “Friends” reruns for 24 hours nonstop, he said. Google’s goal was to build what he called “the 60/40 box” — a TV device that would successfully mix popular TV content with online video services.

Google first unveiled Android TV at its developer conference in June of 2014. The company has since released a set-top box dubbed the Nexus Player in cooperation with Asus, and video game fans can choose between Android TV-based streaming devices from Nvidia and Razer. Sony, Sharp and Philips are all making Android TV-based TV sets available to consumers this spring as well.

The biggest challenge for Google is that Android TV doesn’t integrate with traditional cable boxes. Consumers will still have to switch their TV input source to access their cable channels, and online video channels won’t be part of that mix anymore. Google has struck deals to build Android TV-based pay TV boxes in countries like France and Korea, but time is on the company’s side: As consumers embrace cord cutting and internet-based services like Sling TV, eventually, everything could become a channel, with consumers being able to mix and match their own personal lineup from traditional TV services and online video sources.

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