Column: Gestalt-Google and the Giant Killers

I’m second-to-none in my appreciation for what Google has brought to the world. As CEO of washingtonpost.newsweek interactive, I was one of Google’s first publishing partners when the company had no business model and I viewed search as a commodity. As a passionate consumer of information, I use Google a thousand times a day.

Just as importantly, Google has created countless new businesses and opportunities for innovation, while also forcing everyone in the media world to become accountable to users who now — and forever — are in control of their information and communication.

But, slowly, a gnawing feeling among media titans is growing to a crescendo that all is not right with the world. Studies showed users saying that their best “news,” “health” or “financial” Web site was Google. Users can find jobs, cars, real estate, restaurants, movie information — anything that helps them live their daily lives — through Google and the other startups it’s facilitated.

When big, monopolistic, powerful enterprises feel threatened by upstarts, they tend to go through their own version of Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, imitation (often through consortium) and, finally, litigation. As a strategy, it sometimes works for a while — the American automakers had a few years’ respite before Japan ate their lunch — but it’s never sustainable. Innovation that improves people’s lives always wins in the long run.

Google currently seems unstoppable. Its advantages include audience loyalty to a product that is hard to beat, the ability to hire the very best in talent, and money to dramatically outspend and acquire in infrastructure and innovation.

This has long been true, but Google’s recent acquisition of YouTube and planned buyout of DoubleClick may be watershed events for sleeping media giants. I’ll take the audiences and Adsense dollars, cheer on your stock price and “do no evil” rhetoric. But if you think you can house my content, serve my ads, get in between me and my advertisers, and know more about audience behavior with my properties — well, hold on.

Pundits from the giant-killer camps will say, “What can you do? Join the fray! Create new business models! Take advantage of all the wonders that have been unleashed!”

And I profoundly agree. Great change offers as much opportunity to media titans to create new business models as new product innovation — to the greater benefit of us all.

I have little patience for the enterprises that fight to preserve the past as ways to preserve their hold.

So how will this play out?

The next few months will see a lot of attention devoted to four key questions which will tell us how the media titans will address Google: First, did Sumner Redstone sue Google as a negotiating tactic, or was he the forerunner of a battle that will pit the entire media world against Google? Second, are Yahoo and Microsoft really considering joining forces? Third, will publishers, marketers and advertising agencies embrace Google, or co-author significant alternatives? And fourth, will Joost emerge as the quality content maker’s YouTube?

The last point intrigues me most because Joost is, in fact, really, really good. Populated with enough content, it will be even better. The lion’s share of the most visited content on YouTube is traditional media content. And, the juggernauts’ deals with Joost marks a new approach for them: challenging one innovative company by richly embracing another one.

I fear, as an old African proverb goes, that when elephants tumble the grass will get crushed — that great media enterprises will fight to turn back the clock and will fail, and we users will suffer, at least for a time.

But only for a time. If powerful enterprises fight with innovation, always putting the user first and opening up new business models, this is going to be one of the most interesting periods in media history.

 Christopher M. Schroeder is CEO and president of The HealthCentral Network, Inc. (

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