Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Meme-orandum: Google is a Content Company, not a Media Company

I saw the link for the LA Times interview of Google CEO Eric Schmidt come up yesterday in my headline searches in which he says that Google is a technology company and not a media company, but that registration panel gave me that split second to say to myself, "Ahh, I've heard it all before." Based on a flurry of posts from Rafat Ali, John Battelle and others I reviewed the story and the weblogs...and I HAD heard it all before. All Schmidt is pointing out - and rightly so - is that a company like Google, unlike traditional media companies, focuses on contextualizing intellectual property created and/or owned by other sources. Media companies, on the other hand, focus on owning and monetizing their own intellectual property, usually copyrighted. That's a pretty simple division of focus. What Google IS, however, is a content company - a company that provides information and experiences created by individuals, institutions and technology to benefit audiences in contexts that they value. The information and the experiences happen to focus largely on others' intellectual property, but it's the same net effect: Google just decided to focus on monetizing the value of contexts, not intellectual property ownership.

The net effect of this concept is that media companies struggle in their efforts to become content companies. We can see how this plays out by looking at a 1-year trend from Alexa stats for a few major news outlets: The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times and Reuters. Great media properties all and many of them have benefited from improved strategies. But at the end of the day, they're all sagging: there's only so much great intellectual property of your own that you can crank out on a given day, versus an infinite sea of content in public, private and enterprise settings to be contextualized. We also see it in the struggle of B2B publishers to add "rich data" to their core editorial content: most of them are content to be media companies with some additional digital content assets in their portfolio, with little thought given to changing core missions.

I don't believe that media's days are numbered - there's always a market for well-designed intellectual property - but I do believe that we're seeing clear indications that the media as a whole are outnumbered - and out-technologized - by content producers of all sizes and shapes who take a very different view of intellectual property. Increasingly this includes mainstream content producers looking for improved channel strategies. As Jim Cramer points out at TheStreet.com there's nothing to say that come some fall the NFL could decide to bypass television networks altogether and pump its own sports programming and ads onto the Web for direct consumption.

So is Google a media company? For their own sake, I hope not. Good choice, Eric...
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