Google Sets CES Expo On Fire
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Google straight man, Larry Page, in partnership with comedian Robin Williams, has presented one of the best keynotes seen at the CES Show in Las Vegas for a long time. He announced several new products along the way.

On stage with comedian Robin Williams, Google founder Larry Page made Microsoft and Bill Gates look like has-beens in a sparkling, entertaining keynote presentation at this year’s CES Show in Las Vegas. Robin Williams in fact couldn’t have asked for a better straight man, during the closing keynote of the Consumer Electronics Show today, than Google co-founder Larry Page, or, as Williams called him, “Mensa boy”, who was dressed in jeans and a white lab coat.

During his 90 minute presentation the pair had a tradionally serious audience of journalists and analysists clapping and laughing while delivering a host of new innovations including a brand new Google Pack download service and a new Google Video Service. Microsoft’s Opening Keynote was, in comparison, boring — with many journalists walking out prior to the end.

Williams poked gentle fun at Page, even as he helped him handle a long series of questions from the audience. (Many of which focused on future Google products, such as a cheap PC, and many of which Page dodged.)

Page took the stage riding on the back bumper of a robotic SUV that had competed in last year’s Darpa Grand Challenge, a race across the desert. (For liability reasons, the robotic SUV that crossed the stage at the Las Vegas Hilton needed a driver, a member of the Stanford University team that designed it.) Page was wearing jeans, hiking sneakers, a white t-shirt, and a white Google lab coat. Indeed Williams’ routine was regarded as so risqu_ that sections of it were blacked out to those trying to watch the event in the overspill area. The INQ was particularly amused by Williams’ suggestion that to truly internationalise video content, Minnie Mouse should sport armpit hair.

It wasn’t exactly clear why Williams was on stage in the first place. He was supposed to be demonstrating a prototype Google add-on helmet for humans. But he ended up co-hosting the Q & A session, too.

The first part of the presentation rambled, and it felt like a college course that had been taken over, in the professor’s absence, by the teaching assistant. Page wondered about why it is that cell phones, cameras, and handheld computers can’t communicate with one another, and why they all have different power adapters. He griped about why it was such a pain to download and install software.

Then he unveiled Google Pack (http://pack.google.com), a free bundle of software (including Google Desktop, Acrobat Reader, Norton AntiVirus, Mozilla Firefox, and several other goodies) that is easy to install in one fell swoop.

But things really got rolling when he unveiled the Google Video Store. I’ve posted here before about Google’s plans to compete with Apple’s iTunes Music Store, but this was the official announcement.

Google will sell, at $1.99 a download, TV shows from CBS, WGBH, HDNet, and the NBA. You can watch 30 seconds of a video for free, and the video can be watched on a PC, or downloaded to an iPod or PlayStation portable. Producing good video is expensive, Page said, and Google Video Store will allow anyone to pick a price they want to charge for their video, from 5 cents on up, whether you’re a big studio or a small independent. Page said he wasn’t wild about the idea of using advertising to support video on the Web: “I don’t think the online experience of being forced to watch a commercial is a great experience.”

Google’s leveling of the playing field – letting anyone upload and charge for video – is a big deal. It potentially will help Google’s video site surpass iTunes, since Apple’s approach so far has been to go around doing individual deals with big media companies such as Disney and NBC/Universal, while forcing small content producers to give away their stuff for free. I think Google has just created the video version of eBay.

Page trotted out Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, to help herald the launch: “Each of us needs the other to take the next leap forward,” Moonves said.

Then Williams came out to help Page manage the Q&A. (Most keynotes at CES don’t allow questions from the audience; kudos to Page for bucking that boring trend.) God help the French fellow who stood up to ask Page about whether there would be French videos on the service… he wound up as cannon fodder for a Williams riff that mentioned the Maginault line, smoking, Euro Disney, and Minnie Mouse’s armpit hair.

Google is set to go up against Apple and Microsoft in the video download market. The Google Video Store is the first open video marketplace enabling consumers to buy and rent a wide range of video content from a major television network, a professional sports league, cable programmers, independent producers and film makers. This fast-growing collection of videos will include prime-time and classic hits from CBS, a full slate of NBA games from this season and outstanding performances from the past, music videos from SONY BMG, Charlie Rose interviews as well as news and historical content from ITN and new titles being added everyday.

“Google video will let you watch lots of high quality video on the web for the first time. You can search and browse, and we make it fast and easy for you to watch,” said Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and president, Products. “For video producers and anyone with a video camera, Google Video will give you a platform to publish to the entire Google audience in a fast, free and seamless way.”

Available soon customers will be able to browse http://video.google.com to get listings of video by category from the store or search Google’s entire collection of videos by simply entering keywords into the search box.

The company has signed up with a number of partners, however the most notable is CBS’s current primetime hits will include CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NCIS, Survivor and The Amazing Race. Library classics will include I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch, The Twilight Zone, MacGyver, Have Gun Will Travel, Mannix, My Three Sons, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. All CBS programs will be presented commercial free.

The company also announced that it will be offering its software applications via a single download application for PC users called Google Pack. More information can be found at pack.google.com/

Additionally, content from Google Video can be viewed with a newplayer that can be downloaded for free from any playback page. Itoffers all the traditional playback options (play, pause, stop…) as well as a “thumbnail” navigation feature that enables users to browse through an entire video, or frames at a time, with a simple click oftheir mouse.

iPod and Sony Playstation Portable users will also be able todownload and watch any non-copy-protected content from Google Video,and even get it specially optimised for playback on their devices.Google Video Store will be available throughout the world, however purchasing premium content in the Google Video Store will only be available in the U.S. Page did tell SmartHouse he was confident that “Very soon” the service would be available to Australians.

In reponse to a SmartHouse Magazine question Page said “We are aware of cross-licencing issues into Countries like Australia and we are working on it. It is a very complex and difficult issue”. He also said that Google was getting the lion’s share of the revenues from the new video service.