CES 2006: Google's Larry Page draws crowd, but falls short of making a major announcement

Las Vegas (NV) - It was not - repeat, not - the "Google PC" that company president Larry Page announced in his keynote speech to CES Friday afternoon. In fact, it wasn’t even a consumer electronics device. It was another download service offering, placing Google in a market category along with Apple, Yahoo !, Microsoft, Sony, Napster, and now Intel as a provider of pay-per-view content.

Page demonstrated the media player software for Google’s new Video Store, which like many other Google applications, appears plain but functional. Here, excerpts, videos, or entire recordings will be made available for download for a one-time fee. Unlike other media players, Google’s will feature a browsing capability that peeks into videos you’ve already downloaded, automatically creating chapter frames from which you can start watching at the start of a new scene. Most likely, the technology used here is borrowed from Google’s existing server-based video software, which provides clips of selected and authorized programs by letting users peruse thumbnails of scene changes.

The major component of Page’s announcement is Google’s content deal with CBS, official news of which was broken by Google itself early this morning. Fans of shows like Survivor, The Amazing Race, and all the various and equally oppressive flavors of "C.S.I." will be able to download commercial-free replays of previously broadcast shows for as little as $1.99 each. Google also announced its new content deal with the National Basketball Association, which will enable it to make available to consumers complete downloads of NBA games 24 hours following the final buzzer.

Other content partners with deals announced today include the British ITN (ITV News) service, music videos from Sony BMG, independent film producer Greencine.com, the public broadcaster responsible for Charlie Rose interviews, and educational programmer Clearvue, which reportedly produced an interesting video warning teens about the dangers of body piercing and tattooing.

Also announced today at this conference otherwise devoted to electronics devices was a bundling of software from multiple providers, to be called Google Pack. The bundle will include Google’s own popular AJAX- based applications such as Google Earth, Google Talk, and Google Desktop, plus the picture browser Picasa ; Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware ; Mozilla Firefox with the Google Toolbar ; Norton AntiVirus 2005 ; RealPlayer ; Adobe Reader ; and the multi-protocol instant messenger Trillian. The entire bundle of previously free software will be made available for free download. We saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, standing in line for hours awaiting this announcement.

Page conducted his keynote in an impromptu manner, wearing a long, white lab coat, and appearing to speak off-the-cuff and matter-of-factly. At one point, he went on for a very long time - seemingly about 20 minutes - about how awful it is that many consumer devices did not effectively communicate with one another, and how nice it would be if there were a common protocol. (Bidirectional broadband streaming, we’ve noted, is one of the hot-button topics at this year’s CES.) It all seemed to be leading up to something. Strangely enough, it didn’t.

A strange moment of the keynote - especially for some journalists who prefer to watch the keynote from a comfortable chair outside the auditorium, where there’s Wi-Fi connectivity and an appreciable absence of long lines - was when two large segments of the Google production were intentionally blacked out to followers of CES’ closed-circuit feed. The reason for these blackouts, we later learned, was that the content of Robin Williams’ live comedy sketches - one of which focused on "The Integration of Google with the Human Brain" - had been screened in advance, and apparently judged to be too "off-color" for transmission throughout the convention. Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Show, we had to remind ourselves, takes place in Las Vegas.

As for the anticipated Google PC, we learned that - at least officially - such a device is not under development. Instead Page promoted the idea of the $100 notebook that is intended to be distributed to 100 million children worldwide. Page didn’t take the speculations about a Google Pc seriously and answered a journalist’s question wth "Is there a rumor ?" Google representatives earlier told TG Daily that the rumors were an idea out of the blue sky."

Page’s keynote perfectly mirrored the young executive’s image - to be a brilliant, idealistic student with visionary ideas to creative a better world. And in fact, Google still enjoys it’s business honeymoon phase, despite its 5000-employee workforce, and can afford to act different. Page’s keynote lacked major announcements - at least announcements we would expect from a company that dominates several Internet applications and has brought such ingenious applications such as Google Earth to life. Page’s keynote was refreshingly different, entertaining and casual - but in the business world this may not be enough anymore for Google in the not too distant future.