Is Google Killing -- or Saving -- the Media Industry?


Google , which has taken away valuable advertising dollars from traditional media companies, is the enemy of the industry.

No, Google, with its tremendous utility and popularity among news junkies, is the media's savior.

You decide.

The state of the media
One outcome is clear in this digital revolution, despite whatever conclusion you have already reached. The search giant stands as the most important and revealing component of the recently distributed Pew Research Center's "The State of the News Media 2013" report.

That's because Google is the most influential company in the space, the one that has single-handedly caused the most seismic shifts in the media ecosystem. The restless, highly ambitious organization promises yet to continue to shape what we know of as the media industry.

Google represents the major change in what we refer to as "the media industry." Approximately a decade ago, I once got into hot water with a New York Times writer when I suggested in print that Google wasn't even a "media company." Since then, I have seen the light. Yes, Google surely is one because it does what a time-honored media operation has always done: disseminated news and information. Just ask any journalist in an American newsroom from Miami to San Francisco whether he or she uses Google (and quite often, at that) to do reporting. Case closed.

At the same time, Google is anything but a traditional "news" outfit, mind you. Don't look for Google to expose the president's crimes, like The Washington Post so gloriously did during its Watergate investigative reporting. But if some news organization did just that, chances are good that you'd first read all about it -- in some aggregated form -- you betcha, on Google.

No, it doesn't have an original-reporting footprint to speak of. But don't let appearances fool you. Google is the beast of the media industry, particularly as the action shifts away from the Internet to the mobile-devices arena. The mobile area is currently the media's flavor of the month

"If there is one fact that neatly sums up the predicament news organizations face, it is this," the Pew report pointes out. "Google, long the dominant player in search ads, has now extended its lead to the rest of the digital advertising market. In 2012, it also became the largest player in display advertising and the nascent market of mobile ads."

Google is truly the 900-pound gorilla in the media's room. Let's face it. This is nothing new, really. Google has been flexing its muscle for many years in profound ways. As soon as "Google" became a popularly accepted verb for searching online for information, the mystique of the media's archives dissipated tremendously. Plus, the ease and convenience of Google virtually put media company's libraries out to pasture during the recent slowdown in advertising revenue for media companies across the board.

The future
What about the future? How will Google play a part in it?

Pew, again, provides a glimpse into what looms -- and guess which company will likely play a huge role? Tablets that are based on Google's Android operating system represented about 41% of the global tablets that were shipped during the third quarter of last year, according to the market research outfit Strategy Analytics. This connotes a big divergence from the identical period of two years before, when Android tablets comprised less than 1% of the market, the Pew report observed.

Google's prominence threatens to be even more far-reaching in years to come. The company now has reached the exalted position of a popular-culture and a business force, a rare combination. Perhaps only Apple can rival Google in this century in terms of both its business prowess and its fingerprints on our society.

It's almost unthinkable that someone doesn't use Google -- perhaps many times a day, at that -- to find out every nugget of information. Facts to help you do your job better? Surely. Statistics about a sports team? Naturally. The background of someone you have just met and want to learn more about? Absolutely. The latest celebrity gossip? Duh.

"News organizations are increasingly dependent on Google and a handful of other tech firms for the tools and platforms needed to reach their audience," the Pew report said.

This is evident to any media professionals who have seen their reporters and editors rely so heavily on Google as the foundation of their research. And it will continue.

The new frontier is the mobile world. Mobile represents the continuation of the Internet, which achieved prominence because if offered convenience to the max.

"Fully 64% of tablet owners say they got news on their devices weekly and 37% report that they do so daily," according to findings from a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and The Economist Group. And, it seems, the bigger the news event, the more successful the mobile devices are in giving users the scoop.

Pew's State of the Union piece pointed out that Katie Zhu, a mobile app developer at NPR, has noted in a blog post that mobile covered 50% of the traffic from their election night app feature that tracked electoral votes. "Typically, NPR gets just 10% to 20% of its traffic from mobile," Pew notes.

The importance of tablets is undeniable. Today, roughly 31% of adults now own a tablet device, nearly three times the share compiled in May of 2011, and 45% of the adult population possesses a smartphone, up from 35% during the same time period, Pew tells us.

This is manna from heaven for the news industry, as users rely on smartphones to receive their information nowadays, just as only a few years back they depended on their clunky old home and office computers. This revelation presents challenges to media executives and journalists, who now must scramble to meet the demand for information via tablets.

Google, of course, figures to be omnipresent on cellphones, tablets, and every other device in this arena. The company has demonstrated a remarkable lack of complacency as it seeks to dominate every business it gets into. Google should teach television, radio, newspaper, magazine, and online companies two valuable lessons that are essential to thrive, and not merely survive, in this digital age:

  1. Don't rest on your laurels.

  2. Be willing to change with the times.

If you don't, Google will crush you.


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Fool contributor Jon Friedman owns no stock in any of the companies mentioned in this column. The Motley Fool recommends Apple and Google. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Google and has a disclosure policy.

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