ProBeat: Google could have easily avoided the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ brouhaha

Google Home

Google found itself in hot water yesterday when Google Home’s My Day feature ended its spiel with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, which opens in theaters this week. The company dug itself a deeper hole when its first statement began with “This isn’t an ad.” Users on the ad-supported internet then proceeded to lose it.

Here’s the thing. I believe Google. I believe that the company didn’t intend for this particular snippet to be an ad. I believe Google was experimenting with different options for its My Day feature. It doesn’t surprise me that Disney apparently didn’t pay Google for the experiment. But I also think the purpose of this experiment was to test how ads could work on Google Home.

This could have all been easily avoided. When people told the smart speaker “Tell me about my day,” Google Assistant ended with this:

By the way, Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast opens today. In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice. That rings truer if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me to tell you something about Belle.

Instead, the Google Assistant in Google Home should have said something like:

By the way, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast opens today. Do you want to hear a list of other films coming to theaters this week?

The message still gets across, but your reaction goes from “Google, why the hell are you telling me about this specific movie in my daily roundup?” to “Oh cool, Google Home can now keep track of movie openings.”

It’s really no surprise that Google is looking for ways to further monetize Google Home. Even though the device can shop for you, it’s never going to replicate what Amazon can do with the Echo. Google’s main business is not shopping, it’s ads.

But Google needs to tread extremely carefully with the Home. Like any new product, the goal should be to figure out potentially useful new features, and monetization will follow.

In fact, I would argue that smart speakers like Google Home deserve special treatment. This is a completely new category, and a very personal one at that. These devices are being placed in the most intimate place: your home.

Hopefully this ordeal will remind Google the seriousness of such an intimately placed product.

Side note: The real winner from all this is Disney — the entire ad-hating internet was reminded of the movie’s opening, rather than just Google Home owners.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.

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