Commentary

Google Needs To Raise Premium Video Bar To Netflix's Level

Google needs to step up in the world of big programming deals, especially to compete with the likes of Netflix.

Google is still the 500-pound gorilla in many areas of the digital media world. Its video platform YouTube still generates huge numbers of video users and time spent. But when it comes to critical new original TV programming, Google is still well behind other players.

Rumors persist that Google will go after one of the biggest TV franchises out there: the NFL’s very lucrative “NFL Sunday Ticket” package. DirecTV has the rights through 2014. The package, which allows viewers to watch every single NFL game during the season, costs subscribers around $250-300 per season. DirecTV paid some $1 billion per year for the rights.

Analysts say the deal has been well worth it for DirecTV, considering what it has done to bring in and retain viewers.

Thinking wider than the NFL, Google and YouTube have the wherewithal to outspend a host of other platforms for the biggest TV franchises -- “NCIS,” Major League Baseball, “The Voice,” you name it. 

Sure, right now digital advertising wouldn’t fully support any of these ventures. YouTube has experimented with premium TV programming, but consumer behavior on the site is still firmly in the free, advertising-supported mode. But Google could take some bigger swings.

With its large cash reserves, Google should at least consider more of an R&D model when it comes to TV programming. Netflix got big, positive critical reviews for “House of Cards,” “Arrested Development” and other original programming -- which can lead more big-time TV program creatives to head its way. (Long before Netflix, HBO and Showtime followed a similar model.)

Concerning some of Netflix’s recent successes, you have to wonder whether Google executives were whispering: “Why didn’t we do that?” Sure, Google has been developing some “premium” content through a number of YouTube content deals. But much of that content consists of short Web series, three-to-five minutes an episode, rather than valuable hour or half-hour dramas or comedies.

Getting a piece of the NFL package wouldn’t create any new original breakthrough programming with Emmy nominations attached, a la “House of Cards.” But it would drive a programming stake into the ground.

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