Is Google A Media Company?
That was reaffirmed this past weekend by Marissa Mayer, Google's head of products, at a media futures event in Scotland. According to news reports, Mayer went to great lengths to make the point, stating that "Google is a technology company, not a media company." And, "If we were creating content ourselves, that would create a bias and could affect how we would position other content. That's why we've been careful not to create a lot of content."
Doth the lady protest too much? If so, why? To pacify media companies that they want to partner with, or avoid copyright infringement lawsuits from those same companies, I suspect. The logic being, I surmise is that media companies are more likely to view technology companies as more favorable partners than other media companies, and are less likely to think that the tech firms want to eat their lunch. It's sort of like the trucking, automotive and airline industries in the 1950s telling the railroad industry not to worry about them, and to partner with them, since the others weren't in the railroad business.
In my opinion, Google is a media company. I don't base that on an academic or dictionary definition. I base it on the simple fact that they generate 99+percent of their revenue from advertising, that they have one of the largest audiences in the world, and that they are now one of the world's most trusted consumer brands for search and, increasingly, other kinds of information and applications. If that doesn't make it a media company, I don't know what does.
True, Google is a technology-centric company. But that fact doesn't disqualify it as a media company. Are newspapers not media companies because they are printing-press-centric? Are the Associated Press or Reuters not media companies because they are communication-networks-centric? Some media companies are content-enabled. Some are distribution-enabled. Google is technology-enabled.
So, why does it matter? If Google doesn't want to call itself a media company, why should others call it one? I'm sure that it's not the best label to wear around your neck when you're trying to attract really smart technologists. They tend to covet Nobel Prizes in the sciences that are won at great technology companies, not the Pulitzers, Emmys or Oscars that media companies vie for.
I think that the "media company" label matters for a much bigger reason than recruiting. Calling yourself a media company signifies an understanding of the unique responsibilities that come with being a fundamental transmitter or access point for people reading the news or gathering important information. Increasingly, as more and more users access the news via the Web, they aren't mindful of which company pulled together the who, what, when, where, how and why. They only know that they typed in a word or a phrase and got the news they wanted. Technology companies can improve people's lives, but media companies can change nations and shape the world. They can cause the death of thousands of people through just one misstep; being a media company carries with it a heavy responsibility.
History is littered with media companies that have made good decisions and bad decisions as to what to publish when and where, from reporting on the sinking of the Maine, to publishing the Pentagon Papers, to printing the Abu Ghraib prison photos and to releasing search and e-mail data connected to Chinese dissidents. These are big responsibilities that require human, not just mathematical, considerations.
Creating world-changing technology is hard. Running a great global media company is much harder.