How Google Can Win The TV Wars

Last night I saw Seal in concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and as I watched and heard some songs which I didn’t like, I pictured myself clicking the thumbs down button on Pandora – the user-configurable online radio station which allows you to choose which songs you don’t want to hear. The ability to choose what I listen to and watch – via DVR technology has transformed the way we want to consume content and this unprecedented flexibility continues to shatter media consumption habits.

The idea is not lost on Shiva Rajaraman, a senior product manager for YouTube who says, “We think the prime-time slot of the future is very much user-programmed.” Shiva is absolutely right and this concept is a natural evolution of user-preferences blended with content delivery systems which will allow us to watch what we want, when we want.

I have discussed the idea of having Pandora become the conduit for video in the past and while the company obviously has technology which allows users to experience new music of a similar nature to other songs they like, it will take time and lots of money for Pandora to become the TV of the internet.

In the mean time, YouTube backed by the tremendous resources of Google has the potential to become the site where users go to when they are looking for high-quality network programming. The problem is the site is on track to lose just under half a billion dollars this year because it is a treasure trove of user-generated video which may not be suitable for ads.

As I mentioned four days ago, YouTube needs to strike a deal with networks to show more high quality content they can show ads on. Last night, when I got back from the concert I saw that YouTube has in fact inked deals with Sony, Lions Gate, MGM and others to do what I discussed earlier this week.

Content is content and to be honest there is a good chance I will find that ancient episode of MASH if I really want to see it. But YouTube brings to the table the ability to show me massive amounts of related content as it stores so much of it. It is this similar content which has the potential to excite viewers. For example a late-night YouTube video watcher could see a half-dozen spoof suggestions of a program they are watching.

In addition, Google can quickly emulate Pandora’s technology using Google’s engineers and massive database to help a viewer watch an endless stream of shows which are similar in nature. Horror? Comedy? A blend of both? It doesn’t matter… These engineers can likely ferret out whatever exists on the net and stream it to you.

This assumes of course YouTube gets access to all the high-quality programming on the internet – or at least a significant portion of it.

Google through YouTube owns the most popular video site in the world. The success of Hulu shows us that people will find the content, wherever it lives. What Google needs to do to win in the video advertising wars is provide a better viewing experience by utilizing content targeting technology to give the users what they want and when. They then need to continue working with small advertisers to get them into the video advertising market. You see, even networks which are scared of Google may have to capitulate if Google has relationships with thousands of small video advertisers they can’t reach. In the text advertising world, Google is the winner, but can they do the same in video? Time will tell.

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