Google Is the media
Imagining the Google future, here's scenario 1 (circa 2025): Google TV, Google Mobile, and the rise of e-paper create the perfect storm.
Some say it began with the launch of Google News, the company's first media aggregation site, in 2002. Others point to Google Book Search, completed in 2007 despite cries of foul play from the publishing industry.1 But those were just trial runs. Google took its first real step toward media dominance in 2008, when it bought an obscure cable network for $3 billion and transformed it into Google TV.2 The library of video content the company had been archiving for years was now searchable via remote control. Viewers could choose any show they wanted from the history of TV; all they had to do in return was sit through just one commercial before each show, and then vote with their remotes on how relevant they found the ad.
Since viewers had to enter their Google IDs -- the same ones they used for Gmail and other premium services -- the company had already compiled a rich history of their searching and surfing habits.3 If you spent a lot of time looking at cars on eBay, for example, you'd be shown automotive ads the next time you watched Google TV. Between 70 and 80 percent of the revenue from each ad went to the content provider, just as it had on the Web.
Google TV was an instant hit; advertisers, copyright owners, and cable customers all clamored for more. (One of the first casualties was a company called TiVo, which offered a hard-disc TV-recording service that Google's vast remote archive now made redundant.) Searches, ads, and Google TV schedules became more relevant every month. Consumers loved it.
Google Mobile followed in 2009, delivering the same service to cell phones for free. Then the dam broke in 2011, when E Ink and Siemens began mass-manufacturing electronic paper.4 By 2018 the cost of e-paper had fallen close to that of the real thing, and Google began delivering all forms of media wirelessly to our e-papers, sheets hung on living room walls, and thin phones.
For a while, media companies were happy with the generous cut they received from Google's skyrocketing ad revenues. But a new generation of content creators was growing up -- one that did not see why a story should be printed in the New York Times or a movie distributed by Paramount if it was all going to end up on Google anyway.5 So the company offered a very public guarantee to all writers and artists that their works would not be edited in any way by Google (but added that consumers would be allowed to edit and remix them any way they wanted).
In 2020 two Google-based writers won Pulitzer Prizes for reporting and fiction, Google-sponsored bands swept the Grammys, and a Google director walked away with the Oscar for best picture. Almost overnight, New York and Los Angeles had lost their footholds in the media universe. For talent -- and fund-raising presidential candidates -- Mountain View was the new place to be.
Footnotes: 1) Litigation continues over Google Book Search. 2) "The Next Frontier: Google Eyeing a Move Into TV's Territory," Advertising Age, Oct. 31, 2005. 3) "The Search," by John Battelle, 2005, and interview with the author. 4) E Ink demonstrated the first tablet-size e-paper display in October 2005. 5) Interview with Danny Sullivan, editor, SearchEngineWatch.
Next: Scenario 2: Google is the Internet