In a debate at OMMA Hollywood today, I will argue that Google will NOT become "king of all media." Although my esteemed opponents will no doubt come packing heat, it seems to me that theirs is a losing proposition.
- First, we must define terms, because if "King of Media" means richest, most powerful company in the media sector, Google's already there. (Sorry, Sumner.) If "King of ALL Media," however, means the company that creates, produces, and monetizes all media, forget it.
- Traditional media content--journalism, linear storytelling (in TV and movies), music, talk shows, comedy--is not going away. Google currently does not produce traditional media content, and won't unless it radically changes its business. What Google does do--extremely well--is organize, distribute and aggregate media. As a result, it is a major threat to traditional media distributors, but not (in most cases) to media creators. (For the purposes of this debate, I'm going to assume that to be "King of All Media" one can't just be a distributor).
- Google generates the vast majority of its profit (profit, not revenue) from the one content product that it does produce: search results. Some fear/assume that Google's recent initiatives with print and radio will result in these and other media industries being subsumed into a Googleplex. This is ludicrous. In its offline initiatives, Google is acting as little more than a technology enhanced ad-rep firm--one that takes a small cut of the profits (and, with big partners, after overhead, the cut is small), in exchange for selling ads. If Google's offline efforts are successful, it will likely become a good partner for media companies, not a competitor. (Which isn't to say that other online companies aren't assaulting traditional media).
- Even Google can't win three wars at once. Yes, Google has, so far, crushed its online competition. It will only continue to do so, however, if it keeps its eyes on the ball. In addition to keeping its Intenet competitors at bay, however, Google has also indicated that it wants to destroy Microsoft Office--a move that probably will not cause Redmond to just wave the white flag. To become "king of all media", meanwhile, Google will have to go about destroying newspapers, magazines, cable companies, radio networks, TV studios, and other entities not known for just rolling over. If Sergey, Larry, Eric, et al, are as smart as they appear to be, they won't be dumb enough to try to do this.
- Believe it or not, Google does have some online competition. Although Yahoo was knocked flat in the early rounds, it has recently staggered back to its hands and knees. Now that Microsoft's core business is under attack, meanwhile, it may finally begin to get its Internet act together (unlikely, I know). But if Google really does try to "attack" traditional media, these two companies and others will be waiting with their arms open--a fair, reasonable Internet partner who doesn't want to doesn't want to see the media glory days come to an end.
Now, will Google, Yahoo, and others eventually become single-destinations in which people can go to find and use ANY content? I sure hope so. Before that happens, however, a lot of revenue-sharing, copyright, security, and other issues are going to have to be worked out.
Also, some content (though not all) will always be king--and the people who create and produce it will always get a big cut of the profit. For such content, no Internet company will ever have the gate-keeping power of, say, a cable company. If a user wants to view Superbowl clips, he or she will go to whichever site is hosting them. That site, in all likelihood, will be whatever site wants to pay the most for the privilege.