Share story

If Google has its way, you might someday get cable television the same way you get Gmail: through any ordinary Internet connection.

Foreshadowing a new challenge to entrenched cable and satellite providers, Google is one of several technology giants trying to license TV channels for an Internet cable service, according to people with direct knowledge of the company’s efforts.

No deals are imminent, but Google’s recent meetings with major media companies that own channels are a sign of the newfound race to sell cablelike services via the Internet, creating an alternative to the current television packages that 100 million households in the United States buy from companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Intel is hard at work on one such service, and companies such as Sony and Microsoft have previously shown interest in the same idea, colloquially called an “over the top” service because the channels would ride on top of existing broadband connections. They need support from the channel owners, though, and so far that has been tepid.

Google, which also owns YouTube, the world’s largest online video site, declined to comment on its television interest. But by instigating conversations with channel owners about a service that would compete with the likes of Comcast, the company is taking a different tack than rival Apple, which has been trying to collaborate with both channel owners and their distributors on a TV offering.

“Google feels the need to beat Apple to the punch,” said one of the people with direct knowledge of the meetings, who like the others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by their employers to speak.

Apple’s thinking, according to these people, is that any next-generation television service must be set up in partnership with existing distributors, in part for quality assurance reasons. A future Apple service could include a user-friendly interface layered on top of Time Warner Cable or Cablevision’s channel lineup.

“Apple’s working within our current ecosystem,” one of the people said.

What Google and Intel, and likely others, have in mind is more disruptive and more difficult. One person involved in the talks with Google cautioned that the company might end up just selling a library of TV shows, the way Netflix, Amazon and Hulu already do.

But others said that Google had pitched an easy-to-use subscription service that would stream a bundle of live channels as well as on-demand shows, replacing the cable bundles that most households now purchase.