China's TCL Preps Android TV

Internet TV will be tricky in China, where regulatory issues abound.
China's third largest TV maker, TCL, is rolling out an Android-based TV system. This comes hot on the heels of Google's own decision to enter the world of TV using their Android platform, though TCL says it's been working on the product for more than a year without help from Google, the creator of the Android OS.

Android has already proven itself as a smartphone operating system and has a wealth of third-party applications that could soon find their ways into Chinese consumers' living rooms. In addition to traditional TV channels and video-on-demand, TV makers here are embedding interactive gaming, video conferencing, and online shopping in their LCD TVs.

The growth of the Internet TV industry has been slow so far, though online videos viewed with a PC are more popular, especially in China. Currently, local TV makers TCL, Konka, Hisense and other major TV manufacturers all have launched Internet TVs but the different hardware and software platforms has meant limited compatibility and difficulty in providing feature upgrades.

Moving to the open-source Android platform should solve some of these issues although it is not without complications. In just over one year, Android has gone from version 1.5 to version 2.2 and has had several incremental upgrades. With high-end, expensive consumer electronics like TVs, compatibility and ease of software upgrades need to be given plenty of thought to make more TV makers more comfortable with the systems.

Furthermore, introducing the platform in China reveals all sorts of unique problems, not least of all regulatory issues. In providing access to more content than available through standard television sets, TV makers must be sensitive to local content regulations and the politics that comes with it.

So far, TV giants have avoided Internet TV in China, viewing it as a risky prospect. Instead, they have focused on offering Internet TV in US and European markets where services like Hulu and YouTube are less controversial.

To lessen the focus on being an alternate TV channel, TCL is including e-commerce, games, online education, conferencing, and more on their platform. It is through these value-added services that they expect to make a profit. TCL's Liang Tiehang says the most profitable area will be gaming, something they are relying on third party developers to push forward.

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