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Interview With Google's "Content Tzar" Former BBC Journalist Peter Barron

By Nur Bremmen, MemeBurn

It's not easy to run an online content business in an age where everyone is a publisher. Everyone is doing it and there's never been competition in the content business like this before.

If we cut through the hyperbole and the evangelism, we're left with the simple fact that online advertising, while promising, is not making the same bucks as its traditional media counterparts.

The model is still evolving and can be confusing at times. So what is the future of content and online advertising?

Memeburn got the answers from Google's content Tzar, Peter Barron. He spoke about paywalls, Google News, filtering news by social recommendations, and the future of online advertising.

Barron has been Google's Director of External Relations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa since January 2011. He joined Google in 2008 and was previously Director of Communications and Public Affairs for north and Central Europe.

Before joining Google, he was editor of BBC2′s Newsnight program from 2004-2008 and worked in TV News and Current Affairs for nearly twenty years. He has also been deputy editor at Channel 4 News and Tonight with Trevor McDonald and devised and edited the BBC Current Affairs drama-documentary series.

What is the future of online advertising in a publishing context -- where are we headed?

Online solutions for publishers won't be limited to one format. We're working with publishers on a variety of business models online, including advertising, subscription and others. Through experimentation and the creation of a wide range of products, we believe journalism will be able to continue to thrive in the online era.

Do you see a time where publishers are no longer selling advertising themselves and just focusing on content creation, i.e. advertising happens all through a third party ad network like AdSense?

Again, we believe that the important thing is to have a variety of models available. Ad networks carry certain advantages for publishers, but some publishers may prefer to build their own technology for ad serving.

Why does there appear to be such an adversarial relationship between online media and Google? - O'Reilly once referred to Google aggregation of publisher content as the "Napsterization" of content?

I think our relationship with the news industry is improving all the time. We have been speaking and collaborating with publishers in recent years to try to find online solutions, and I think most in the news industry recognize that.

Our users want to find high-quality material online, and so we are working with publishers around the world to help increase traffic, readers' engagement and to find more effective ways to monetize content, whether that is through ads or charging for content. We believe that working together is a win-win scenario.

Why do you think Google was accused of "Napsterizing content"?

Google News doesn't violate copyright laws. We show just enough for users to identify the stories they're interested in--a headline, short snippet and a link to the publisher's site--and we direct users to those news sites to read the stories. This is fully consistent with copyright law.

Google Search and Google News are a great source of promotion, and send about four-billion clicks a month to the websites of news publishers, but if a publisher doesn't want to appear in our index all they have to do is implement simple technical standards such as robots.txt in order to remove their content.

How can Google help cash-strapped online publishers?

Google wants to help create a virtuous circle for publishers: more, better engaged users; generating more revenue; enabling greater investment in higher quality content. Google drives a lot of valuable traffic to news organizations' websites for free -- it helps people discover the content these publishers make available on the web.

Each click is a business opportunity, offering newspapers and other publishers the chance to show ads, register users and win loyal readers.
Google tools for publishers include:

-AdSense for relevant text and display ads

-DoubleClick ad-serving tools for showing display ads

- AdExchange for maximizing the value of ad space on an impression-by-impression basis

-YouTube channels, video embeds and YouTube Direct

- Fast Flip for magazines, newspapers and web publishers

-Living Stories to experiment with displaying news, now open sourced

- News Archives for newspapers and magazines

- One Pass for payments and authentication across platforms

In many ways, Google has leveled the playing field, allowing new and niche online publishers and individual blogs access to vast audiences -- can you comment further?

The internet lowers barriers and enables publishers large and small to find new audiences and create revenue. We think this is fantastic as it enlarges the potential market for content creators and publishers, and increases the amount of choice available for consumers.

At what point will there be too much choice and too much information?

People always have their mechanisms for winnowing down choice. For instance search engines, social networks, friends' recommendations and other sources provide consumers with ways of managing the otherwise overwhelming amount of data out there.

The Internet gives us the unprecedented potential to bring the world's cultural material to the fingertips of anyone with an Internet connection; we will use technology to make all that information manageable.

Where do you stand on the paywall debate? Should publishers charge for their content?

It's really up to news organizations to decide if they want to charge for their content online. And it's up to consumers to decide if that content is worth paying for.

How can Google help here?

Google helps connect those publishers and consumers. It's important to remember that through programs like Google One Pass and First Click Free, news publishers can charge for their content while at the same time ensuring that it's discoverable through Google--these two are not mutually exclusive.

We send billions of clicks to news publishers' websites every month and have lots of advertising tools to help publishers make money online. We're also talking with publishers to figure out if Google technology can help with some of the technical challenges of charging for content online, like authentication and billing.

Paywalls -- we're getting an acute sense of déjà vu. Apart from the WSJ and FT, they largely failed in the early 2000s, why would they work now when they failed before and there is now even more free content choices online?

Some people already are paying for content, and we think more will as long as the content is unique and adds value to consumers. But it's up to individual publishers to decide whether they want to charge for content, just like it's up to consumers to decide if they want to pay for it.

Our goal is to help connect those publishers and consumers. It's important to remember that news publishers can charge for their content while at the same time ensuring that it's discoverable through Google -- these two are not mutually exclusive.

Do you think the pronouncements on the death of print are greatly exaggerated? And the traditional TV broadcast?

Print journalism is clearly facing difficulties at the moment. Our focus is on helping to provide technological solutions to help make the transition online a successful one. We believe that online holds great opportunity, and that what is needed is a variety of new products and business models to enable a thriving online journalism ecosystem.

Would Google News ever carry advertising?

For Google News, the primary goal is not to generate revenue but to help users find high-quality information produced by journalists.

Currently, advertising only appears on Google News in the US. We have no plans to place advertising on Google News elsewhere.

Also, we should note that news results are not big earners of revenue, as advertisers are far more likely to want to advertise against searches for "Sony TV" than "Forest fires in Germany".

Photo credit: BBC