Google (via CEO Erich Schmidt) has always maintained that they are a deliverer, a crawler, an indexer… but that the monolithic tech company is “not in the content business.”
This, like many long-standing facts about the big internet players, is about to change.
No, Google isn’t setting up shop in Hollywood, but they are directly courting studios to bring their content to YouTube in a large-scale Pay-Per-View system, according to the Financial Times (warning: registration wall). This is something they’ve been beta testing all year.
Controlled, licensed content delivery is a market that Google has long avoided entering, instead allowing Apple to exploit it (first in music, then in Movies and TV) and become an increasingly monolithic competitor. Meanwhile, (relatively) smaller but growing companies like Netflix and Hulu have sprung up to compete and fulfill more specific consumer needs, also garnering a great deal of success (Hulu is about to launch a huge IPO). The days of companies like Google sticking to one thing and doing it well are passing, as conflict brews in a a number of online theaters of war- content delivery being one of the most important.
Obviously any great push from Google to bring pay-per-view films to YouTube is going to be huge… the number of users passing over their content everyday dwarfs that of any other service. But will people respond to a YouTube service that requires payment, even if the prices, technology, and selections are right? We’re entering an age where users are increasingly stubborn about perception, choosing to associate services and brands very closely with different kinds of experiences… I would compare the experience of watching a feature-length film on Google to that of Netflix, and note the subtle differences. Netflix provides content in a focused garden of film and TV, and once you’ve made your selection you are taken to a unique, focused portal that brings up your video. That red Netflix player, subconsciously delineating itself from a usual web interface, becomes our online movie theater and has made itself synonymous with the online motion-picture experience. Hulu exists somewhere in the middle, with a more YouTube like experience, but even the manner in which commercials (much as we might detest them) are presented before the primarily episodic content creates a comfortable, TV-like vibe.
YouTube comes with very different set of baggage though, and the emotional experience of the interface is only one small piece of this media puzzle that must be considered.
Be it their coming war with Facebook (which is very real, and loaded far more heavily in Facebook’s favor than you might instinctually imagine), or their multi-headed media conflict, the largest and most successful internet based company of all time has a lot more catching up to do than it’s used to. At the end of the day though, it’s fucking Google, and there’s not a bigger swinging dick that could possibly enter a media/technology fight. It will be interesting to watch how well they do in one small part of it- the battle for our online movie-watching eyeballs.
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