Is Google a content company now?

I know it’s been a couple of days since this was announced, which in blogosphere terms is a lifetime ago, but something about the announcement of a deal between Google and “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane continues to puzzle me. Actually, a bunch of things about it puzzle me — and not just the fact that (as Valleywag points out) this deal was originally talked about almost a year ago. I guess I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the idea.

Just to recap, the cartoonist and the search engine have teamed up to offer, well… I don’t know what to call them except maybe cartoon “webisodes” — a series of 50 two-minute clips that will be distributed through Google’s AdSense program and will be collectively known as Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. As described (both of the times it has been announced), the clips will be animated and will carry advertising in some form, whether banner or pre-roll/post-roll. MacFarlane has called them “animated versions of the one-frame cartoons you might see in the New Yorker, only edgier” (notice he didn’t say funnier).

I guess my problem — if I have one — is that this deal seems to be neither fish nor fowl. It’s not so much that it blurs the line between TV and animation and the Web, because I’m all in favour of that kind of line-blurring in digital media. It’s more that Google and its advertising program seem like an odd fit with an artist like MacFarlane; even just writing a sentence like “the deal between the search engine and the cartoonist” reminds me of that old saying about the fish and the bicycle. What are these two things doing together?

Are the clips that Seth creates content or advertising? They will be distributed through AdSense, and carry ads, but they aren’t technically advertising (to blur matters even further, Seth will create special versions of the clips for advertisers). In many ways, this is the kind of thing that Yahoo might do, and in fact has done, in the past — creating content or contracting with someone to create content, although without the advertising piece. Does that mean Google is becoming a content company, and if so, is that necessarily a good thing?

15 thoughts on “Is Google a content company now?

      • Yeah I'd have to agree with Rob's comment. What is advertising any more?
        FYI, Hockey Night in Canada was created by MacLaren McCann the Ad Agency (it was originally General Motors Hockey Broadcast and GM remains a client of Maclaren's to this day)

        • Reminds me of the first big-time TV show — Milton “Mr. Television”
          Berle's show Texaco Star Theater 🙂

      • Well, as a true believer in the “content is advertising/advertising is content” concept, I'll say that I agree with Mathew. I have no clue what to make of this deal. I think they may have gotten the whole setup backwards. The point of advertising = content is that you focus on established *content* channels to deliver advertising, not focusing on established *advertising* channels to deliver content.

        I don't know. I just haven't figured out how these content units are actually used. Who uses them and how? And who looks at them? The whole thing seems confusing.

        • Thanks, Mike — I'm glad I'm not the only one 🙂 That said,
          however, it is nice to see people experimenting, even if we can't
          figure out what they're up to exactly.

  1. Google rolled out “gadgets” last year and partnered with a few media companies and ad agencies to demonstrate how you could use Adsense to deliver “apps instead of ads.” I think the MacFarlane deal is similar: trying to provoke producers, media owners, and planners to innovate around distribution, even if the delivery mechanism is hitched to general-purpose search. It’ll probably fail (the demographic is a bit narrow, search is too directional, etc), but it’s a better place to fail than, lets say, Gmail or Googledocs, which generally don’t add much to the bottom-line or improve their premiums.

  2. I've never heard of this deal before between Google and that certain cartoonist. This is weird. Google's acting strange recently. What does it try to tell? Are they changing a new business scheme?

  3. like a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down ..

    trying anything to get advertising to remain palatable, or become palatable, depending on you pov

    i think even google knows ads aren't sustainable long term, more space created than things to advertise

  4. I suspect this is one of those “hey let's try something different and see what happens” type of things.

    Maybe it will work. Maybe it will fall flat.

    Either way, Google will have learned something.

  5. I'm not sure I understand how this is not advertising…

    Even if it wasn't advertising this is far from making GOOG into a content company. BTW, it already pays AP to use its content in Google news.

    GOOG is and will always be a software and server company, it does not want to be in the content business. Yahoo tried to be in the content business with mixed results…

  6. Google may or may not want to be in the content business, but it more or less is, given that the distinction is no longer whether you *create* content but where and how you serve it. YouTube is a content business. Google owns YouTube.

    In many ways, Google is the ULTIMATE content business. It is the company that provides the best dashboard to the web's content, and it serves ads alongside a sizeable portion of it.

    What MacFarlane's cartoons are doing in the middle of AdSense I don't really know. My best guess is that Google is trying to work on the “blind spot” that internet users have developed towards the google ad boxes.

  7. I'm not sure I understand how this is not advertising…

    Even if it wasn't advertising this is far from making GOOG into a content company. BTW, it already pays AP to use its content in Google news.

    GOOG is and will always be a software and server company, it does not want to be in the content business. Yahoo tried to be in the content business with mixed results…

  8. Google may or may not want to be in the content business, but it more or less is, given that the distinction is no longer whether you *create* content but where and how you serve it. YouTube is a content business. Google owns YouTube.

    In many ways, Google is the ULTIMATE content business. It is the company that provides the best dashboard to the web's content, and it serves ads alongside a sizeable portion of it.

    What MacFarlane's cartoons are doing in the middle of AdSense I don't really know. My best guess is that Google is trying to work on the “blind spot” that internet users have developed towards the google ad boxes.

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