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Should Hollywood Fear Google?

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By Robert Young

Let me expand the title… as Hollywood is increasingly forced to adopt the Internet as a distribution channel, should it be afraid that Google will eventually become the dominant gatekeeper for video?This question, which used to be one of the most pressing in the minds of media executives, seems to have been put on the back-burner lately due to the meteoric rise of online video sharing sites like YouTube and social networks like MySpace (not to mention Google’s own anemic efforts on the video front thus far).

google mac player

Well, it would be a big mistake for Hollywood to drop the ball and not keep their eyes on Google as their primary threat, because the answer to the question is a most definite “yes”.I would go as far as to say that Google’s role as the dominant gatekeeper to online video is inevitable.And the reason why is pretty much exactly the same as the reason why Google came to be the king of search in the first place.

As we all know, Google revolutionized search by leveraging the most unique and powerful element of the web… the hyperlink.The basis of their innovation was the very simple premise that hyperlinks, and the way people use them, were a highly reliable proxy and filter for quality, relevance, and popularity.Google’s insight to use people power was actually quite counterintuitive (vs. the conventional wisdom of informational retrieval experts at the time) and it’s important to realize that if people didn’t continue to link en masse, there would be no Google.Conversely, the more people link, the more market power Google is able to usurp and wield. The strategic implications of this insight, which Google used to dominate the market for text-based search, are now about to spill-over into the world of video.

As more and more videos go online with every passing day, people will increasingly link and point to the ones they like, just like we do with text today.This will give Google the exact same opportunity with video as it had with text… they can unleash PageRank to index and aggregate video links with high popularity, relevancy, precision and recall.To a large extent, Google can just sit tight and do nothing, as it’s the people and the natural momentum of the web that will do all the heavy lifting to make this happen.Wayne Gretzky would be proud… Google already knows where the hockey puck is heading and it’s just waiting there with a clear shot at the goal.

For most in Hollywood today, the Internet is all about the challenges of going on-demand and adjusting to a non-linear programming format. And given such a mindset, most feel that it is sufficient to fortify and hide behind their war chest of copyrights and brands. But such thinking is short-sighted… what Hollywood really needs to understand about the long-term implications of the Internet is that the hyperlink is going to enable a dramatic and permanent shift in control over programming and distribution from the center (e.g.corporations) to the edge (e.g. consumers). People are increasingly becoming “social media programmers” and the continued momentum of the masses to hyperlink is a disruptive force that cannot be contained and prevented.So it’s not just about on-demand and consumer convenience, it’s about the disruptive effects of the hyperlink and the unstoppable loss of control it inflicts on “walled gardens” all types.

Given all that, what Hollywood needs to grok is that hyperlinks are to Google what spinach is to Popeye. As more and more hyperlinks to video are generated, Google will grow stronger, armed with the competency to harness the collective power and intelligence of all these links into a coordinated and unified threat. So going back to the original question… should Hollywood fear Google? The long answer is that the probability of Google becoming the dominant gatekeeper to video will be directly correlated to the amount of hyperlinks people generate over time. The short answer is… it’s inevitable

Robert Young is a serial entrepreneur who played a major role in the invention & commercialization of the world’s first consumer ISP, Internet advertising (pay-per-click ads), free email, and digital media superdistribution.

22 Responses to “Should Hollywood Fear Google?”

  1. google is like microsoft…only good at few things and these don’t always translate into new things very well…video search is more than just links…google didn’t invent the idea of link populatiry either…direct hit was before them and many others.

  2. So long as people primarily seek NEW videos (like they usually seek NEW blog posts), I have my doubts that PageRank will help all that much in gatekeeping. For the same reason it breaks down on blog search.

    Why? The next time Om has a terrific bombshell of a post, plug it into Technorati to see how many are linking within the first hour. Usually far less than the “popular” news here:

  3. Hollywood should fear Vista with cable card support once it’s on PC with all the hacking capabilities and with fiber bandwidth rollingout like no tomorrow there is no stoping us.

  4. I believe that Google, Yahoo, and others have a good chance of becoming something like the ultimate TV Guide — in effect a gatekeeper. Whatever media you want, whenever you want it, is just a click away.

    But I’m not convinced that the underpinning for that phase of the networked entertainment evolution will be driven by hyperlinks — not in the sense of today’s page-to-page hyperlinks. Google doesn’t always grow stronger as links expand. There are too many links that are simply spam, garbage, or malicious. Spamdex continues to grow at an alarming rate.

    There are much better models for providing guideance and recommendations for video and audio media. The social search poster children (Digg,, et al) may have a shot at it but I believe it will ultimately come down to a system that let’s me define a personal relevance filter for the content I want to consume.

  5. Prashant… you’re making me blush ;-)

    And thanks for the rest of the comments… particularly the ones who raised the very valid issue of how my thesis applies to different types of content (user-generated vs. studio-quality). I will provide an answer, but please be patient as I will do so in a subsequent blog post. That way I can delve into the issues with the thoroughness it deserves.

  6. Another great article! Robert, you have a nice way of taking a lot of noise and putting it all in perspective.
    Your article on Social Networks was a great read too.
    One thing I like about your articles is the fact that they are a good dose of reality. There is absolutely no rhetoric or unnecassary hype (which is sooo common on most blogs about Web 2.0, internet startups, etc.). It is very clear that they are written with a clear, simple and well defended point of view.
    Great stuff. Keep going!

  7. Couldn’t agree with Robert more.

    I think it is clear that all content publishers who intend to use the web as a medium for selling and distribution will need to be conscious of the danger posed to their position by the need for search.

    It’s all very well to have your content online but if it cannot be found then it’s no use. Equally if you have to pay to have your content “appear naturally” near the top of search results then your position is even worse. Even if Google don’t ask for such payment you will probably pay them for contextual ads anyway and it’s the same deal.

  8. A comment above asks:

    “What kind of video are we talking about here… home-made trash or major studio productions with digital rights?”

    That may not be an important distinction. Look at the sudden rise of the Bus Uncle video on

    With five million downloads and a series of spinoffs, the Bus Uncle video suggests that one person’s trash might be the next person’s CNN

    check it out at

  9. eddies

    Young is on to something, but he’s not an economist. Who cares if its Google or Apple for the moment.

    What if interest rates increase and we have a recession and the cost of commodities rise significantly (including commoditized laptops, storage, memory chips, video equipment, podcasting equipment, digital slr cameras, video camcorders, etc.)? What if we have Jimmy Carter-like interest rates in five years? What if unemployment also increases? How will these social media programmers put food on their plate? Will Google pay them for all their hard work? I doubt it.

  10. Jacob Varghese

    Ish, Unless Tivo can resell their platform as a software install for media center PCs or sign deals with more cable operators, I don’t see how they can generate long-term growth. People don’t want to spend more money on another box or pay between $17-$20 a month for something that the cable companies provide.

  11. Jacob Varghese

    I disagree with Robert’s contention that Google will be the gatekeeper of all video. I don’t see how hyperlinks play into movie/TV studio generated paid content. It will only be useful for user-created or free content.

    I actually see Apple being the winner in the paid content arena. They have a stable application that people are familiar with and comfortable purchasing from.

    Compare Google’s video interface with iTunes.
    Or for that matter Yahoo Video or Youtube.
    They are all more user-friendly than Google Video.

    Google does well at search and email, but as of yet they haven’t done well in any other arena.

  12. I agree with the sentiment that search engines that can promote videos by ranking will create some disruption. However I don’t see why Google by itself will win the war against Hollywood. What about Microsoft and Yahoo? And as mentioned in the other blog post – Tivo is actually putting video content in people’s living rooms on real televisions – don’t they pose a threat as much as anyone else?

  13. What kind of video are we talking about here… home-made trash or major studio productions with digital rights?

    “Hollywood” assumes the latter, but will Hollywood allow their content on the web for free to be distributed by whomever?

    Isn’t this the same scenario as music?

  14. I agree with you in the general sense, but being “gatekeeper” doesn’t necessary mean that Google will call all the shots. Looking at it from the other way, Google would not have existed if it weren’t for massive linking, but linking would still have taken place even without Google.