I have a rule about business meetings. When someone’s elevator pitch includes the explanatory phrase, “We’re going to be Google for __________.” I always respond by asking, “What are you going to do when Google decides to become Google for ___________?” Invariably the pitch-person quickly answers, “Google’s not going into this, it’s not their business model.”
You know, that conversation always makes me smile and, truthfully, it never gets old. One of my favorite versions of this dialog is the, “We’re going to be Google for Music” pitch. (I hear this almost as often as, “We’ve built a better iTunes.” But that’s for a different column.)
NEWS FLASH: IT’S OVER — GOOGLE IS GOOGLE FOR MUSIC!!!
If you haven’t been to www.google.com/music, stop reading and go there now. Type in anything that is even remotely related to a song you think you know or that you have ever heard; type in a fragment of a lyric, type in a part of a title, type in the words you’ve been singing all these years, but don’t have quite right and Google will deliver it to you on a silver platter. You can play the whole song for free or buy a copy to keep. Awesome!
The other day my wife and I were driving up to parents weekend at college. Actually, she was driving and I was pretending to be busy on my laptop and listening to XM. As I tuned in the Jazz channel, I heard a fragment of a song I haven’t thought of in decades. I caught a glimpse of the metadata “Herb Ellis, The Groove Merchant.” We were on I87 somewhere in upstate NY. I had Internet connectivity thanks to my Verizon 3G express card. Two seconds on Google/music delivered gold. The song was not originally performed by guitarist Herb Ellis, it was a Jerome Richardson tune, written for the legendary Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra and a full nine-minute video performance was one click away. A few minutes later, I had a $.99 copy of the song on my computer. Three weeks ago, 10 minutes of searching. Now, 10 seconds of searching. Time is money, I’m in love!
Google has cut deals with all of the major recorded music companies and they have commerce deals with a bunch of service providers so you can buy the music directly. That’s the good news.
Here’s the bad news. What will happen when Google decides to become Google for Video, or worse, Google for movies? Think about it for a moment. You probably didn’t stop reading and go experience the Google.com/music product for yourself. I urge you to do it. No matter how I describe it to you, this experience cannot be intellectualized. You have to emotionalize it. You have to feel the satisfaction of wanting to hear something you kind of remember and being able to find it in seconds. Then, you have to use your imagination to try to feel what consumers will feel when video content is made available this way.
Don’t misunderstand me. Google is an awful environment for the consumption of rich media. It’s a rich data site that only has to be designed well enough to keep you from using Bing or some other search product. Considering that Google has over 2/3’s of the search business, they’re not feeling any Darwinian pressure to evolve. But, as sad and boring as the UI is, that’s how spectacular the results are.
People ask Google 100 Billion questions each month. Searching with Google is a part of the ecosystem of the Internet. Now add the training that hundreds of millions of people are going to get as they become expert searching for music with Google. Now, think about the natural extension to video.
With respect to the Media and Entertainment businesses, this is one of the scariest things I have ever seen. I can imagine dozens of scenarios as people set up key word alerts and RSS feeds with video search results. We might see hybrid channelization, automated recommendation and every permutation of targeting using the Google UI. Using Google’s API’s results could easily be brought into unified, emotionally satisfying, aesthetically pleasing playback environments. None of this will have even a remote relationship to the current value chains associated with the delivery of video content. My brain hurts just from thinking about this, yours will too. When will it happen? Way sooner than you think.