Forget relying on the convoluted TV guide from your cable or satellite provider. Google Now is a much better TV companion, telling you about what’s on, finding related information, and suggesting similar shows.
Just as with Google’s other predictive services, you need to train it in your preferences so it learns what you like. Over time it will reward you with this knowledge by finding you new shows you didn’t know were out there. It’s not always perfect (sometimes Google predictions can be way off) but it’s a pretty clever feature that makes for great content discovery.
Finding your TV
Google Now will uses Simple Service Discovery Protocol (SSDP) to find your TV automatically, if you have a smart TV connected to your wireless network. It delivers a small card with a “Listen for a TV show” button. I have found this feature to be a little hit and miss, as you sometimes have to swipe down below the search bar to trigger this card.
Once it appears, your digital TV assistant is ready to serve you. However, if your TV isn’t web savvy, don’t despair. There are other methods for getting Google’s help.
Okay Google, Listen to TV
Just like it can with music, Google Now can fire up its microphone to listen for what’s on the TV. Just touch the microphone or say “Okay, Google, listen to TV.”
After listening for a few seconds, it will launch a card with the program’s name, air time, and network information. It also shows you cards about related topics. For example, during a sports game it may bring up the star players or the stadium venue. For TV shows and movies it’ll boost your trivia knowledge by tipping you on the key actors or historical tidbits about where the action took place.
The match is not always ideal. For example, while watching Most Terrifying Places in America, much of the episode focused on alleged hauntings in St. Augustine, Florida. Instead, Google Now offered a card about theologian Saint Augustine of Hippo.
So Google Now still has some work to do, but at least you may get some interesting reading. Plus, if you’re being forced to watch a boring show by your significant other, you may get stimulating content to check out instead of browsing your Twitter stream for the 38th time that day.
Fine-tuning the suggestions
For better or worse Google Now uses your other Google searches on topics related to TV shows and movies to find suggestions.
The downside is that every show you search for, no matter how terrible, can influence its suggestions. For example, a group of friends and I were recently discussing which was the worst sequel ever, agreeing on Staying Alive, the 1983 follow-up to Saturday Night Fever. So I Googled the film, as I’m not a huge movie watcher and hadn’t heard of it.
A day later, Google Now began pestering me if I wanted to watch this classic cinematic failure. No, I did not. Fortunately you can tell Google Now this by turning down similar suggestions. Despite doing this, Saturday Night Fever arrived as a recommendation a couple days later. Something in that part of the algorithm needs tweaking.
Also, if you subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming services, tell Google Now and it will offer direct links to available programming based on what it thinks you’ll like (hopefully not Staying Alive). It does the same for satellite/cable, with most major companies like Comcast and DirecTV on the list.
This could be a pretty great feature over time, as you could jump right into Google Now, pick a show, then fire up the Chromecast or Nexus Player. A cozy evening on the couch, all courtesy of Google.
Head to the Google Now settings by touching the magic wand icon at the bottom and then selecting TV & Video to choose your on-demand and TV providers.
If you don’t like the TV suggestions, you can hit the menu icon on the top right of a TV card (the three dots) and select No. I do recommend trying it out, as even though it’s not super-accurate all the time it’s fun to explore the entertainment universe.