For nearly as long as the internet has been available to the general public, entrepreneurs and technologists have dreamed of the convergence of the television and the web. From WebTV to today’s internet-enabled gaming consoles, the small screen and the internet have been introduced to each other.

But the type of convergence that many have predicted and sought to create has remained elusive. The world’s biggest search engine, however, hopes to change that.

Yesterday, Google announced Google TV, and behind the unassuming name is one of the company’s most ambitious initiatives. Google TV product manager Salahuddin Choudhary explains:

Google TV is a new experience for television that combines the TV that you already know with the freedom and power of the Internet. With Google Chrome built in, you can access all of your favorite websites and easily move between television and the web. This opens up your TV from a few hundred channels to millions of channels of entertainment across TV and the web. Your television is also no longer confined to showing just video. With the entire Internet in your living room, your TV becomes more than a TV — it can be a photo slideshow viewer, a gaming console, a music player and much more.

Google TV uses search to give you an easy and fast way to navigate to television
channels, websites, apps, shows and movies. For example, already know the
channel or program you want to watch? Just type in the name and you’re there.
Want to check out that funny YouTube video on your 48” flat screen? It’s just a
quick search away. If you know what you want to watch, but you’re not sure where
to find it, just type in what you’re looking for and Google TV will help you
find it on the web or on one of your many TV channels. If you’d rather browse
than search, you can use your standard program guide, your DVR or the Google TV
home screen, which provides quick access to all of your favorite entertainment
so you’re always within reach of the content you love most.

The announcement of Google TV was the centerpiece of the Google I/O conference, and for good reason. If Google succeeds in merging the best of the internet with the best of the small screen, it will become, as CNet News.com’s Tom Krazit puts it, “a new consumer electronics power broker.

But can it succeed? Google appears to be off to a good start. It managed to bring seven CEOs from top technology, consumer electronics, media and retail companies on stage for its announcement. And it has already forged partnerships with Sony and Logitech to bundle Google TV with televisions that will be available at Best Buy stores as early as this fall. Google TV will also be included in blu-ray players and for consumers who don’t want a new television or blu-ray player, companion boxes will also be sold. Best Buy CEO Bryan Dunn, who participated in the Google TV launch, referred to Google’s newest initiative as “not just a new aisle but a new category.

One of the reasons he might be so excited is that Google TV is a platform. Google TV is based on Android, and soon developers and media companies will have access to a Google TV SDK and APIs so that they can build web-based applications designed specifically for the television. Not surprisingly, those applications will be available for download and purchase via the Android Marketplace.

In essence, Google is attempting to do for television what Apple has done for mobile. And if it succeeds in building the App Store of the small screen, it will not only have built a new market Apple has tried and failed to develop, it will potentially be in a stronger position to dent Apple’s mobile dominance. After all, Android is holding its own in mobile. It will have a place in the nascent tablet market, and the soon-to-be-released Froyo update includes Flash support, something iPad owners say they want.

In many ways, Google seems to be making all the right moves with Android, and if Android also becomes a viable platform for reaching a large number of consumers via the television, it will be awfully difficult for developers and media companies to ignore Android. After all, more screens can mean more revenue. Driving home the potential here: Americans watch nearly 35 hours of television every week; they spend just under 4 browsing the internet. According to Nielsen, simultaneous television viewing and internet browsing is on the rise, hinting that consumers might be ready for the kind of new television-web entertainment experiences Google TV could bring to the masses.

Of course, Google needs more than just vision to succeed with Google TV; it needs execution. And the company’s track record here is spotty at best of late. That said, Google TV might be one of the most important things the company has attempted, and that alone makes it worth getting at least a little bit excited about.

Photo credit: dailylifeofmojo via Flickr.