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Google joining other tech companies in race to launch pay television

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NEW DELHI: Google is joining several other technology companies in the race to launch an online version of pay television and has recently approached media companies about licensing their content for an internet TV service that would stream traditional TV programming.

A report in The Wall Street Journal quoted by CASBAA says if the Web giant goes ahead with the idea, it would join several other companies planning to offer services that deliver cable TV-style packages of channels over broadband connections.

Intel Corp and Sony Corp are both working on similar offerings, while Apple has pitched various TV licensing ideas to media companies in the past couple of years.

Google has made overtures to some programmers in recent months about the initiative, sources said.

In at least one case, Google has provided a demonstration of the product, according to a person who saw the demonstration. Google did not immediately have a comment.

If launched, the internet-TV services could have major implications for the traditional TV ecosystem, creating new competition for pay-TV operators that are already struggling to retain video subscribers.

Existing online-video players like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon.com offer on-demand TV, but the latest efforts are aimed at offering conventional channels, allowing consumers to flip through channels just as they would on cable, as well as on-demand programming.

There is no guarantee Google, or any of the technology companies, will be able to strike licensing deals.

Media companies are nervous about undermining their lucrative arrangements with existing distributors by licensing to new online pay services.

The media companies are more focused on expanding online and on-demand availability of their programming through current distributors, say media executives.

While they are open to licensing their content, they generally give the best prices to the biggest distributors.

To get decent rates for so-called over-the-top TV services, Google and other companies will almost certainly have to accept the standard programming bundles that cable and satellite operators pay for - packages that include highly popular and less popular channels.

This is the second time Google has gone down this path. About two years ago Google had conversations with media companies about a similar service but the discussions did not get very far, it is learnt.

Still, the environment has changed since then: not only are several other technology companies actively working on similar services but pay-TV providers are also asking entertainment companies for nation-wide streaming rights.

While none of those other discussions has yet resulted in any new services that could soon change. Intel, which plans to launch its service by year-end, has had discussions with several media companies to acquire broadband-service rights for more than a year.

It is unclear whether the company has yet struck any major programming deals. But it may at least have a name. Documents disclosed last week indicate that the company may call the service OnCue.

The status of Sony's plans is not clear either although one media executive said Sony could launch its service before Intel.

As previously reported, Sony plans to beam its service over broadband connections to Sony-made devices, which include PlayStation gaming consoles, TV sets and Blu-ray players. A Sony spokesman declined to comment.

Apple has met with resistance from media companies throughout negotiations to license content, said people familiar with the situation.

All tech companies looking to launch a video service face a fundamental strategic challenge: If they can't beat cable or satellite TV on pricing and offer the same lineup of channels, it is not clear why consumers would switch.

One answer, backers say, is that the technology companies can develop far better interfaces to watch television than the clunky programming guides pay-TV operators offer now.

Indeed, many media executives said they are impressed at the slickness of slick Intel's set-top box and guide.

Google has taken several other steps to expand in television and online video in recent years, including financing original programming for its online video site YouTube, launching regular cable service on its Google Fiber network in Kansas City, and developing a Google TV software to be installed on cable TV set-top boxes.

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