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Google TV update rolling out, will it save the platform?

The new Google TV software update — a rather major overhaul — is starting to roll out to Google TV-powered sets and devices this week. At the same time, YouTube announced it’s rolling out new original content channels. It’s a combined effort to restart the product, which was widely panned by consumers and blocked by many TV content providers’ websites.

“Google TV is not a cord-cutting product,” explained Google’s Mario Queiroz at Paid Content Entertainment today. “It’s not about the web replacing broadcast TV or replacing cable. It’s about the web being added to your broadcast TV and cable experience. I think we’ve proven that in how we’ve designed the product.”

Queiroz says the design is focused on discovery across live TV and web video, because that’s “the real issue to be solved.” The user experience has been simplified along with search. “People don’t always know what they want to search for,” he explained (imagine that!), so Google has added a new app that recommends TV shows and movies to watch.

But the biggest new additions are around YouTube and the addition of Android TV apps. Queiroz said they were surprised how much YouTube people watch on TV, so they’ve “made it a lot more TV-like.” That explains, in part, the addition of new YouTube channels that emulate TV viewing behavior — “channels created by well-known personalities and content producers from the TV, film, music, news, and sports fields,” reads the YouTube blog post. It also helps, in a small way, to fill the gaping content gap on Google TV.

Google TV is launching with about 50 Android apps, providing a “door into the living room for content owners and developers large and small, traditional and new, to bring their content to television.” Launch partners include CNN Money (above), CNBC (below), Fox News, Fox Business and Discovery Earth. The hope, of course, is TV content providers will bring valuable video to the table, accessible by search, bringing value to the Google TV platform.

On the social front, Twitter (as before) has a Google TV app, now through the Android Market. And Clicker, too, is among the first apps to launch, which includes a friend recommendations feature. It’s interesting that Google TV overall has yet to integrate social in a meaningful way.

While we have yet to get our hands on the new Google TV, TechCrunch has filed its first review. It praises the new user experience — obviously a big improvement — but criticizes (you guessed it) the lack of content. “Google TV is a great Netflix and YouTube box but that’s about it,” writes Matt Burns, who says it does deliver more content but “(it’s) mainly just from Netflix, Amazon and YouTube as Hulu, ABC.com, NBC.com and all the rest of big media’s ad-supported websites are blocked.” In other words, it’s “mostly an alternative front-end to Netflix and Amazon.”

Roku, meanwhile, has a big head-start in the market, selling simple, inexpensive boxes with a lot more content partnerships than Google TV. Xbox has a huge installed base. And Netflix, Hulu and YouTube are available on just about any connected TV set these days. So will the new Google TV update save the platform?

There are a few possible avenues here 1) Android TV apps catch on 2) Google’s distribution power — don’t forget it bought Motorola, which is the top maker of TV set-top boxes — helps it gain momentum and 3) YouTube lands consistently high-quality content. All three of these, in my mind, are still a big “if.”

Your thoughts? Please leave ‘em in comments below…

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