Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Exclusive interview with Google video platform director Jennifer Feikin

Posted by Richard Koman - April 27, 2005

Google_Video.jpgWhen Larry Page announced at the national cable convention a few weeks back that Google would start allowing users to upload digital video, he described it very much as an experiment. "We're not quite sure what we're going to get, but we decided we'd try this experiment," he said.

The video project really did start as an experiment at Google, originally developed on "20 percent time," the well-known Google policy of letting engineers spend a fifth of their time working on projects of personal interest.

Now that Google's been accepting uploads for a few weeks, I popped down to the Googleplex for lunch with Jennifer Feikin, director of video.

While Google wouldn't provide any specifics on the number of uploads so far, Jennifer said, "We're definitely pleased. We're getting all different types of individuals uploading," including some high-profile analysts. Undoubtedly, it seems that video will be another successful Google project, and Google does have some ideas on business models. For now, though, the project is very much in the collect-and-review phase.

"Video is very complicated. We're trying to understand which formats people are using to author their content, which formats are used for what kind of content, and how big the files are," Jennifer said. She adds that there are no time schedules in place for moving to the next phase of the project: searching, playback and purchase. To help with searching, uploaders are encouraged to provide transcripts of their content.

Google does know where this is going, though. The plan is to allow content owners to charge for their video content. When you upload content you're asked to specify a price for your content, and a sale results in a cut for Google.

But this is a road fraught with hurdles and legal issues. Someone has to:

  • Establish the ownership of the content.
    (I cannot see that there is an obvious way for computers to figure out whether I in fact own the rights to [Disney's] "Bambi" for example. unless Google can figure out a technical solution, actual humans will have to screen submissions and make those decisions; however, Google PR asked me to be very clear that no one at Google said humans would be required.) [I wonder if this means they've figured out some kind of "signature" present in the video? -Tom]
  • Convince mainstream (Hollywood) producers to let Google into their revenue model.
  • Roll out reliable DRM.
    This is not a small issue - unbreakable software-based copy protection is basically impossible - and as Jennifer points out, DRM means not just security but also rights management. Given Google's preference for auction-based systems, Iwould not be surprised that the eventual system might allow for negotiated prices.

    If they figure all that stuff out, then the possibility exists for Google to make some big bucks serving as the distribution platform for mainstream video content. But that sounds like Yahoo's model, not Google's.

    Far easier, given the kinds of businesses Google runs today, is one that taps into the Long Tail. If Google is hosting terabytes of video content created by amateur documentarians, Aunt Sallies and the like, the asking price for content might well be zero. In that scenario, Google can apply what it knows how to do best and allow advertisers to place ads in certain kinds of content or to target certain viewerships. Aggregating vast amounts of content for auction-based ad placements is what Google is all about. Jennifer concedes, "I could see advertising at some point but there are no plans for that right now. ... Like all of our products, there are a huge amount of queries that would happen in the tail."

    Indeed the uploading license agreement explicitly states, "Google reserves the right to display advertisements in connection with any display of Your Authorized Content."

    Ultimately, video search, discovery and playback could be a key piece of the core Google product. As Larry said at the analysts' conference call last week, "Many of our products are integrated into the main search product. These products improve our core products and the core products enhance our ability to monetize the other products."

    In other words, even if, as may prove to be the case with news, Google doesn't monetize video as a discrete business, the value to the core search product and the businesses that hang off of it make video an intriguing "experiment."

    To upload your content, visit Google's upload.video.google site

    BTW, Jennifer Feikin just happens to be my cousin, which I discovered when I read her interview on SearchEngineWatch.)

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