So what does the Google acquisition of Doubleclick tell us?
It says that Google isn't an all-you-can-eat restaurant in Mountain View or a do-no-evil NGO or a research department of Stanford University. It isn't even a search engine. No. Google is a remarkably profitable business that is cornering the market for selling all forms of advertising on the Internet. And given that 95% of all content on the Internet is given away to consumers rather than sold, online advertising is obviously a business with the rosiest of futures. So, if Google controls the banner advertising industry through Doubleclick as well as owning 50% of today's $10 billion a year search engine advertising business (not to mention its deal with Clear Channel to sell radio ads), where might the long-term strategic challenge to Google come from?
It comes from online custom publishing operations like GE's Imagination Theater or Anheuser-Busch's Bud.tv. Custom publishing is fake independent content -- what Richard Siklos in today's NY Times describes as an "evolved form of marketing blurred with media". And it's big business, worth $28.6 billion a year and growing at 15% annually (according to Investment bank Veronis Suhler Stevenson). Custom publishing doesn't contain advertising because, to misquote McLuhan, the content is the commercial. The entire media experience is one long ad. And, as more and more corporations like GE and Anheuser-Busch wake up to the fact that they can have their own online commercial channels, this is becoming the real future of media. As Siklos writes:
A world where old distinctions between media and marketing are becoming increasingly — and at times disturbingly — blurry.
So where does that leave Google? How do they get into the online custom publishing business -- a media where the message is one long commercial break? Actually, they are already in it. They bought into the business for $1.65 billion last summer. YouTube is an early form of an online custom publishing video business. The video upload service is a platform for the blurring of media and marketing. Just look at Smirnoff's Tea Partay video on YouTube -- a perfect example of the way that Web 2.0 is collapsing independent content and commercials.
So Google not only have DoubleClicked on online advertising, but they've also YouTubed the online custom publishing racket. Those boys in the Googleplex might not be entirely moral -- but they sure are smart businessmen.