Should Hollywood Fear Google?

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).

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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.