Media Interviews
In their own words

David Eun: Google Won't Become a Media Company
The head of Google's content partnerships insists that the Internet behemoth won't be a competitor to traditional media. Producing content is "not our business," he says. "Journalists, news bureaus -- that's not what we do."

By Patrick Phillips
I Want Media, 01/30/08

David Eun, Google's VP of Content Partnerships, is scheduled to deliver the closing keynote address at this week's SIIA Information Industry Summit conference in New York.

The New York-based Eun, a former exec with Time Warner and NBC, joined the Internet giant in February 2006 to run a team that makes deals and oversees the company's relationships with traditional media partners.

While some observers see Google as a "disruptive force" in nearly every segment of the media industry (which is how New Yorker writer Ken Auletta recently described the company to I Want Media), Eun insists that his firm suffers from "disinformation and misperception."

Google helps traditional media companies "make a lot of money online," he says.

An edited transcript of a telephone interview follows.

I Want Media: What do you do at Google?

David Eun: I run a group called Content Partnerships. This group is responsible for doing deals and managing relationships with content owners around the world.

It spans three categories: video, which is YouTube; print, which includes books, newspapers and magazines; and a third group called local and core content, which covers everything from local information to geo-mapping data for Google Earth and Google Maps.

IWM: How have your experiences in your previous jobs at Time Warner and NBC helped you at Google?

Eun: I think my previous traditional media experiences have given me insight into how these companies make money and how they look at their businesses.

I understand the television industry, I understand publishing, I understand the Internet space. I have a bit of insight into how larger traditional media companies make decisions. As we think about forming relationships with them and working with them, it's been helpful for us to have that kind of insight. And, hopefully, it's helpful for them for me to have that kind of insight.

IWM: How is working at Google different from working at a traditional media company?

Eun: Google -- despite that fact that we're over 16,000 employees -- is still purposely run and made to feel like a technology start-up. So there's a big emphasis on working in smaller teams and moving quickly. There's a very big emphasis on iteration, continuously improving things and not being afraid of making mistakes.

When you work for a traditional media company oftentimes the products that you're developing are by definition non-iterative. The products are not something that you expect to improve over time, multiple times. Once you've shot the television show or shot the movie, it's done and you deliver it. The kinds of processes and culture you develop are very different.

The emphasis on iteration and gradual improvement versus trying to get it near perfect by the time you hit the deadline makes for some interesting contrast. There are other differences -- in business models and the way in which decisions get made -- but the cultural one is one that sticks out.

IWM: What are the biggest misconceptions potential media partners have about Google?

Eun: The biggest misconception is that they fear Google has aspirations to become a media company, meaning that we would produce and own content that would compete against theirs. That's a major misconception. We don't produce or own content. In fact, we see ourselves as a platform for our partners that do.

The second misconception is that there are some folks who are concerned that we might take their content and do things with it that are not acceptable or legal. Again, that's not correct. We only work with content in a way that is productive and helpful to our partners.

When we talk about Google Book Search, there are still publishers who think that we're scanning books and putting entire copies online, whether the publisher wants it or not. And that is not at all true. What we do is we scan books so that they're searchable, and then reveal only a small group of words around a search term like you do on a regular Web search.

For one reason or another, there is still disinformation and misperception out there. We're trying to correct it.

IWM: What is the cause of these misperceptions about Google?

Eun: I think for some people it's self-created. For others, maybe it's just ill-informed opinion, or things that they hear around the water cooler. I'm not quite sure. If I had a better idea, we'd get closer to the root of it.

Some of it may just be fear about what could happen if somehow we decided to get into the content producing space, which again is unfounded.

IWM: Google has no interest in buying traditional media content?

Eun: That's not our business. What we do is point people to where they can find content. And we make a business by putting relevant ads next to it. Our strength is in understanding what's out there and then putting ads around it, as opposed to trying to guess what kind of content people would like and trying to sell that content ourselves.

IWM: A daring prediction that Google would one day buy the New York Times circulated online last week. That proposition is unlikely?

Eun: Yes. And, frankly, the New York Times is a fantastic partner of ours. And that's one message that is important for folks to understand.

We have thousands of partnerships. The New York Times, for example, is a partner in the Google AdSense program. We place the ads on their Web site. They have their own ad sales force but we help them sell ads. The Times participates with us in various initiatives. The Times also has a branded channel on YouTube. A lot of people aren't aware of that.

We feel like we have a great relationship with the Times. We hope that they're very successful. But what they do as a company -- with journalists, news bureaus, thinking about what people want to read, producing a newspaper -- that's not what we do.

IWM: Most media companies' advertising revenues are declining while Google's are growing. Isn't traditional media's apprehension of Google understandable?

Eun: No, I don't think so. And I'm going to react a little bit strongly here. These are complex businesses. And, frankly, to pin it on one thing, on one other party or one force, is naive and simplistic.

Media companies are very sophisticated, complex businesses run by sophisticated, complex people. They're facing challenges for a variety of reasons. One area of challenge -- and, frankly, opportunity -- is digital distribution. And one of the things we're doing with our partners is helping them make a lot of money online.

We're spending a lot of our time and resources educating them about what we're seeing in the marketplace. I think if you were to ask directly the people at our partner companies, they would tell you they're getting a lot of benefit.

IWM: So there's no reason for media companies to feel threatened by Google?

Eun: I don't actually say that there's no reason why anyone should feel threatened. Frankly, I think that's a little patronizing to the people running these companies.

There's a complex ecosystem that involves advertisers, people who own content and companies like Google that are there to try to connect content and advertisers and users. There's lots of reasons why they're worried.

I think another way to say it is that I don't think they should be concerned about Google being a competitor, or a source of headache. We're part of the Internet; we're part of the technological transformation that everyone's experiencing.

We're here because we want to partner with them, because our business model is based on connecting users with their content and bringing advertisers to their content. Every quarter we pay out over $1 billion in rev share to our AdSense partners. Google is a valuable company to work with.

IWM: Is Google a tech company? A media company?

Eun: I get this question quite a bit. I guess it depends on how you define "media." We're not a media company if you assume media to include producing and owning content. Some people define a media company as anyone who makes money from being associated with content and advertising.

I guess my answer to that question is no, we're not a media company, because we don't own or produce content. However, we work closely with those who do and work closely with advertisers.

IWM: Why does Google want to acquire DoubleClick?

Eun: When we looked at the kind of capabilities we have and the kind of capabilities we don't have, one thing we recognized was that in serving our partners we're very new to the brand and display advertising space, as opposed to targeted text ads, which is our bread and butter.

DoubleClick has built up a suite of technologies that people are already on. Our partners were asking us to help them provide more services. DoubleClick is really complementary.

IWM: What is the biggest challenge facing most traditional media companies?

Eun: In traditional media you generally build your business by making your content scarce and bringing people to it. Whether it's a book, a television show or movie, you say, "Here is our content, and now you come and consume it. Buy a book at your Barnes & Noble, tune in to a TV station at particular time, show up at a movie theater at a particular time." That's worked very well and will continue to work for a long time.

In digital media, though, the hurdles in distribution start to go away. So your ability to get content out there is a lot easier. The bigger challenge for traditional media companies is to find an approach where ubiquity is the name of the game. In the new digital age, you want to create as many relationships as possible on as many channels as possible, because that's what consumers want.

IWM: What is the biggest challenge facing Google?

Eun: To make sure that we continue to be dedicated to our mission to provide value to our partners and users. We're maniacal about focusing on our users and making sure they have great experiences.




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