Google co-founder Larry Page's much ballyhooed unveiling of the Google Video Store made official the company's plan to launch a video content marketplace. The announcement came in January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas where über-geek Page's keynote was punctuated by onstage banter with comedian Robin Williams and two-time NBA champion Kenny Smith. It wasn't all fun and games though; Page's announcement is big news for video content providers and consumers alike.
Google's video venture follows Apple's successful iTunes online music and video store model by bringing in premier content partners like CBS and the NBA. With such heavy media hitters onboard, Google may well match or surpass the success Apple has had with iTunes—at least that's what the company hopes. While not yet labeled a coup, with the CBS deal, the little search engine that could steps a bit farther into Apple's territory.
The CBS deal allows customers to download episodes of popular programs like CSI and Survivor for $1.99 each. Also, basketball fans can download all NBA games, including the playoffs and finals, 24 hours after they've been broadcast for $3.95 per game. In addition to providing exclusive content from the NBA and CBS—including much of that network's classic catalog like The Brady Bunch, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Star Trek—the Google Video Store offers music videos from Sony BMG, independent films from GreenCine.com, Charlie Rose interviews, and more. Thousands of titles are available for download on Google's proprietary player, which requires a free Macromedia Flash Player plug-in. Downloads are also available for iPod and Sony PSP, as well, but not Real Player or Windows Media Player. Google is using its own DRM as well.
If I Love Lucy reruns aren't your thing, the Google Video Store lives up to its marketplace objectives by allowing anyone to sell video content. So, if you like to watch teenagers jump from rooftops a la MTV's Jackass—and pay for it—then Google Video's right for you. As Page says, the model "puts the content producer in charge" by allowing them to set the price for their content. It's clear that the merger bodes well for video content providers of all sizes who can run their content side by side with the big guys.
It's too soon to tell whether Google's move to monetize online video content and cozy up to big media proves to be, as Page says, "a truly historic meeting of the established and new media." The site's design—almost self-consciously amateurish—doesn't communicate the significance of Google's latest move and major-league content partners. Shore Communications' senior analyst John Blossom maintains that while Google is "off to another slow start in terms of site design," he believes that "it's early enough in the development . . . that listening to users carefully is probably a very good idea." Blossom goes on to say that traditional media distributors like CBS "have very pre-established ideas about what video should be. Some of those ideas will prove to be correct, no doubt, but the confluence of professionally produced video content and amateur or non-commercial video content is going to turn many of those ideas on their head." Time will tell how CBS feels having its content shoulder to shoulder with a video of a young man lighting his farts on fire. Then again, given the current definition of "entertainment" on television, CBS may just give such gaseous innovators their own shows.