Schmidt: Google Still A Tech Company Despite The Billboards

Figuring everyone's had enough Google exec interviews at the moment that cover the same old ground, I put the Los Angeles Times interview today with Google CEO Eric Schmidt on our budget to be a headlines-only reference, like this:

Said Schmidt:

Q: Is Google a media company or a technology company?

A: It's better to think of Google as a technology company. Google is run by three computer scientists, and Google is an innovator in technology in our space. We're in the advertising business — 99% of our revenue is advertising-related. But that doesn't make us a media company. We don't do our own content. We get you to someone else's content faster.

John Battelle caught the same "we're a tech company" reference and gave it an entire semi-rant:

But to equate Google not doing its own content with a free pass from the media company classification is, well, absurd. That presumes that media companies only make packaged goods - traditional content - and ignores the fact that the majority of media companies in a post web world (and plenty in the pre web world) are not "creators of content" they are innovators in the media experience business in one way or another.

He goes on a bit more, concluding:

The entire media world is fearful of Google; insisting you are not in their business is a placating calculation. But my two cents: No one is buying it.

I agree entirely. Actually, I sort of thought the entire "Google media company or not" meme was dead ages ago. I last put it to Google back in 2003, getting back from Sergey Brin:

Google has an important technology component. But we also care about the utility of the technology and for our advertising network and publishers. So, I think we're a technology company that applies technology to media.

In 2004, even if Google still wanted to delude itself as being a tech company, the products it sold didn't show that, as I wrote after image ads were released:

Google, of course, is more than a search engine itself. Aside from portal features, it's a major media company, as I've written before. Anyone who has failed to get this picture can't miss it now, as Google announced yesterday that it will distribute graphical ads on web sites.

Skip forward to 2006, when Google went into radio. If there were any holdouts to the "Google's a tech company" notion, surely they'd be wiped out by that move. I wrote:

Guess anyone still entertaining the notion of Google as a technology company versus a media company can put that to bed. Putting ads on radio isn't really a technology business. Nor is it central to that mission of organizing the world's information. Neither is putting ads into print or slapping them up all over the web, either

So yeah, seeing Schmidt still embrace the notion that Google's a tech company is like disputing the existence gravity. And the argument that they're not a media company because they don't own the media content themselves? Right with John -- doesn't matter if you own it. It matters if you earn off it.

That takes me back again to 2003, when The Register argued that Google had problems being in the advertising business because it didn't own its own billboards. From my analysis then, I explained:

Where Orlowski's article is wrong is the idea that Google doesn't own enough billboards for its advertisements. Google's web site is incredibly popular, a giant billboard that it completely owns. It's not a media agency for its own site -- it IS the media owner.

To dismiss the Google web site is to suggest that a major television network in the United States such as NBC is in trouble because it doesn't own the other networks, as well. As long as Google's own site stays popular, and there's every reason to expect it will, Google is in the enviable position of being a major media owner....

Meanwhile, the Google AdSense program by anecdotal accounts has proven to be a knockout punch at coopting billboards owned by others for free. It seems difficult these days to encounter a site that doesn't seem to be carrying Google AdSense links. The Washington Post just ran an article with publishers raving about them. I even now get horrible spam promising to tell me how to make money off Google AdSense.

Perhaps calling Google an advertising company might be less open to debate, since that's the main product it sells -- advertising. But given the billboard idea, I don't think calling it a media company is off the mark. Google's in the billboard business, filling up those that it owns (via software, its own web sites) and those it rents from others with ads.

Meanwhile, here's one more jaw dropper from the

Q: Was your corporate motto, "Don't be evil," a direct response to Microsoft?

A: No. It had nothing to do with Microsoft. Larry and Sergey, and certainly I when I joined the company, spent almost no time on Microsoft. This is a press-generated focus. We don't spend very much time talking about Microsoft.

Q: They're sure fascinated with you guys.

A: We do not spend our time talking about them. It's perfectly fine if everyone wants to obsess about what we're doing. We want to obsess about what we're doing and how can we do better.

Sorry, asking the US Justice Department and the European Union to investigate whether Microsoft is unfair with implementing search within Internet Explorer shows you do spend time talking about them.

I'm not saying Google plans its moves totally around what Microsoft does, nor that its plans are about wiping out Microsoft. But the two companies simply overlap on too many things these days. And Microsoft has Google very much in its sights as a target. Google, despite setting its own agenda, obviously must talk about what Microsoft does as part of its planning.