The first test of Google’s ability to both deliver TV programming via the Internet and drive viewers to traditional TV networks is riding on the shoulders of comedian Chris Rock.
Last week, Google’s experimental video-search site, Google Video (video.google.com), carried the debut of Everybody Hates Chris for four days. The episode was taken off when the second episode of the Rock show aired on UPN Thursday evening.
For Google, the presentation of a complete episode of a broadcast-network TV show allowed it to demonstrate how Web surfers could use the service like a personal video channel or digital video recorder in the future.
For CBS and other Viacom Inc. networks, it was a toe in the water for yet another programming outlet, beyond cable, satellite and wireless handheld devices. CBS Digital president Larry Kramer said his company — which cut the deal to run the first episode of Rock’s Everybody Hates Chris series on Google Video — will use the test to gauge how to distribute either promotional clips or entire TV series through Web portals.
A VIACOM TEMPLATE?
“If this works, I think we have a great deal of leverage to go back and try [to] restate our business with the creative community and work with them to create new programming outlets,” Kramer said.
Making a nationally promoted TV show available in its entirety showed that the Web can be an effective outlet for video programming.
“This Chris Rock episode is a great example of us making video content more accessible, in that users who missed the show when it aired last week — or didn’t record it on their TiVo — they can now watch it on Google Video this week,” said Peter Chane, senior product manager for Google Video.
Viewers can search Google Video like they would the Google.com search engine, and browse through its stores of video clips. But Google Video is a long way from achieving its goal of being a “universal switchboard” of video fare. The first stumbling block: getting a lot of programming.
Google officials said they couldn’t quantify how many hours of video are available on the Web site, but amateur producers or independent production companies, not large media players, are supplying most of the video content.
Videos currently available on the site include a 20-second video of a soldier blowing up a washing machine with a grenade, a 10-second clip of a college kid vomiting in a toilet and 40-minute episodes of “Talking with Jon,” which spoofs The Sopranos, and even uses the theme song for the HBO series.
Google has only announced deals with a few national networks to supply content for Google Video, including Fox News Channel and Discovery Communications Inc. But most of those networks aren’t allowing Google to run video clips from their shows.
Instead, Google Video provides users with transcripts from TV shows, and tells them when the programs they search for are available on conventional television.
Other national programmers listed on the Google Video Web site include The Weather Channel, Cable News Network, C-SPAN and four channels from Scripps Networks — Home & Garden Television, Food Network, Do It Yourself Network and Fine Living.
Discovery Communications, which was the first large cable programmer to launch digital cable channels in the late 1990s, allows Google Video to play back clips of Discovery shows such as Mythbusters; the clips run less than one minute apiece. The site doesn’t offer any full-length Discovery programs.
While Google is attempting to build a massive programming library with content from both large media companies and individuals, Chane said, the Internet giant isn’t aiming to compete directly with programming companies or cable operators and other distributors.
“We’re certainly interested in being a switchboard,’’ Chane said, but “in some cases we’ll host the content, and in some cases we’ll connect users to it.’’
Some Google Video clips contain links to the Web site where users can purchase videos. For shows that also are available on linear TV, Google supplies a list of upcoming episodes based on the user’s ZIP code.
UPN executives ran the Everybody Hates Chris episode commercial-free on Google Video, as the ads sold for the show were only for placement on UPN. Kramer said that’s not a model the company is likely to use regularly in the future.
“If we went and told the public that every show we do would be available for free on the Web, that might not be a very intelligent strategy going forward,” Kramer added.
Google could offer programmers a more democratic approach to reaching viewers via the Web, including independent programmers such as Here! TV — which targets gay and lesbian viewers and hasn’t gained significant distribution on cable or satellite networks.
“There’s been a fundamental shift in the economy of video content, just as there was with audio content,” said Here! CEO Paul Colichman. “In the new limitless digital economy, a collection of niche programs is more valuable than hit programs,” Colichman added.
For example, he noted, at Amazon.com more sales come from lesser-known books rather than bestsellers.
Chane said Google Video isn’t paying program suppliers today for their content, but he said the $4.5 billion search giant is willing to pay for copyrighted works. And the payments could be supported by ads, a la carte fees or subscription payments.
Google could build an advertising platform for Google Video similar to the one it uses in its Google Ad Sense advertising-affiliate program, which allows individual Web site owners to sell ads without their own sales staffs. Ad Sense affiliates place ads sold by Google on their Web sites, and are compensated based on the number of Web surfers who click on them.
BUILDING A BUSINESS MODEL
“As more high-value content comes online, it will need a monetization solution,” Chane said.
For programmers, Google offers a user base of more than 80 million monthly visitors to whom they can market or sell their content. And unlike the broadcast TV world, where advertising rates are based on samples of a small number of households, Google and other Web portals could give programmers reports detailing exactly how many people view their shows, and for how long.
One of the biggest challenges for both Google and the program suppliers is obtaining the rights to distribute content on the Internet, as Kramer and UPN found when they worked to put Rock’s show on Google Video.
In addition to getting approvals from Rock’s production company and UPN affiliates, UPN needed to negotiate individually with the owners of the music that was used on Everybody Hates Chris.
“We hope that the success of this will make it easier to go forward to write contracts that anticipate things like this,” Kramer added.