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Google: From Search Giant to Media Powerhouse. What is fundamentally changing?

Posted in Internet and Search, The Technology Ecosystem by Manas Ganguly on March 26, 2011

As content bolts across both platforms and technology, doing taxonomy on media and technology companies is more complicated than it used to be.

In quest of continuous conquests and staying relevant against a rapidly commoditizing landscape, is Google changing into a Media company as against Content-based businesses? Google has maintained forever that its main business is organizing and managing content. This intent of faith is increasingly being tested as Google treads newer ground.

Prima Facie,Tablets have led the recent media-related deluge as they are fundamentally redefining the way content and media will be consumed. Google this February, announced a subscription based service called One-Pass to enable consumers to buy customized and relevant news and information for their tablets.

Perhaps the best example of Google’s media proficiency is YouTube,which is a platform that is looking more and more like a network for a postbroadcast world. YouTube’s home page, which used to be a user-generated free-for-all, now has a clear hierarchy of channels, with an array of topics — “Entertainment,” “News and Politics” and “Sports” — that doesn’t look that different from the menu guide on my cable set-top box. Al Jazeera English, which can’t seem to find carriage in the broadcast and cable universe, has found a home on YouTube, where it has become the No. 3 news channel.

Additionally, Google has secured deals with NBA, Lionsgate and is paying celebrities for launching their high profile- high traffic celebrity channels on YouTube which are content based agreements. The herculean effort of digitizing books is yet another example of how Google is not just media company but is rapidly moving into “owning content”. Google thus is working on the strategy of providing content to consumers and selling ads against it —which is unmistakably signs of Google moving into media space more than the content bit. Google, which has cracked the code on the Web advertising model, has come to realize that if content becomes just a commodity, then advertising will follow suit. Having created a healthy web eco-system around high quality content, Google is trying to arrange the bits in an innovative order and trying to monetize this high quality content.

Does it really matter?

For starters, being in the media business means looking at media a little differently than being a crawling the web for best search results with a sponsored ad thrown in. Google has long insisted that it has no plans to own or create content, and that it is a friend, not a foe, of media companies. Google in its Search avatar is a traffic generator for folks in media with websites. The Google vision till 2 years back was to be the best conduit connecting people between whatever their search is and the answer they are looking for. Thus Google was not interested in owning or creating content.The question in people’s minds would now be, how unbiased can Google be as it grows and grows and grows and stretches itself into Media. Google has always said it will never compromise the objectivity of its search results. Content based agreements with NBA, Lionsgate, Google Books and the celebrity channels on YouTube could tilt the neutrality of search results ever so lightly now.

Google’s growing reach into the content business could create conflicts similar to those faced by Microsoft in 2008 in its dual role as a provider of an operating system that others run their software applications on and a maker of applications. It is increasingly becoming clear that the company will not shy away from entering what it considers “high-value” content areas.

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