Slaying Google's AdSense

What if Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) threw a launch party and nobody came?

Everything was in place when Google's YouTube introduced video units for third-party publishers on Monday night, populating the Web with revenue-sharing content distribution deals.

Unfortunately, Google was making promises that its launch couldn't keep. Publishers began scouring through the Google AdSense website to sign up for the program. It wasn't up on Monday night. It wasn't even up Tuesday morning.

It wasn't until last night that the video unit finally popped up as a programming option for Google's third-party publishers.

Why would Google rush an announcement of something that isn't even ready? Remember, this is Google, where Gmail's been in beta for years. It normally doesn't announce a new product until it's available.

I think I know why Google jumped the gun. It blinked because of blinkx.

In the blinkx of an eye
Even though it's not a household name yet, blinkx has established itself as the leader in video search. The company has cataloged more than 14 million hours of video hosted on most of the leading video-sharing websites. At a time when Google is grappling with its inability to boot unauthorized uploads, blinkx has actual transcripts and detailed descriptions of the most-viewed clips in cyberspace.

This morning, blinkx is putting that knowledge to viral use. It is launching AdHoc Widgets, allowing anyone to embed blinkx video clips on their Web pages, blogs, and social networking profile pages.

If this sounds a lot like YouTube's video units, now you know why I believe that Google jumped the gun to steal some of blinkx's thunder. Besides, this is Big G we're talking about here. Is there really any chance that it will lose this battle?

It can. Let's compare both programs on various criteria.

Customization

  • Google has slick players, available in several different formats. Unfortunately, the video content is limited to just dozens of active YouTube partners.
  • AdHoc's player is more rigid, yet users have a substantially wider pool of content to showcase.

Monetization

  • Google is the king of paid search, with a wide range of relevant sponsors. Revenue is split three ways, between the content creator (a YouTube partner), Google itself, and the AdSense publisher who embeds the video.
  • AdHoc may not have as many sponsors as Google, but it has no qualms with outsourcing some of the ad space to Web giants like Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) , according to the CEO. Ad revenue is shared evenly between blinkx and the AdHoc publisher who embeds the video. In other words, blinkx will pay out a greater percentage to the publisher than Google, though Google's thicker Rolodex may still yield the higher payout.

It doesn't seem as if Google has much of a competitive advantage here. Sure, it's got an installed base of AdSense publishers, but blinkx is letting anyone -- even if it's just a college kid with a Facebook profile page -- have a chance at making some pocket change by cutting and pasting a little HTML code. There is no website approval process. AdHoc users just sign up, submit a PayPal account email address (to get paid), and they're in.

There's also a real possibility that AdHoc ads may be better matches to the content than what Google coughs up. Yes, Google spiders websites efficiently, but blinkx is the one with the video search advantage.

"That is where the key is," blinkx CEO Suranga Chandratillake told me in an interview last week. "You need to understand the video content deeply."

Video search engines can't rely on tags (which can be gamed) or viewer comments (which can be off-base). You need to do what blinkx is doing: Actually get into bed with the content to know what it wants for breakfast in the morning. This may be why blinkx is powering the video search for sites like InfoSpace's (Nasdaq: INSP  ) Dogpile and search engines like IAC's (Nasdaq: IACI  ) Ask.com, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) MSN, and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL.

Searching for clues
There doesn't have to be one clear winner. If embedded streams with monetizing implications prove incremental to the already buoyant interactive marketing industry, everyone can be a winner.

Still, just the fact that we're arguing about Google's chances -- even though it's the top dog in search, through Google.com, and video-sharing, through YouTube -- is telling. I tested out the video units product last night. I put up a player on Halloween- and travel-related Web pages. The ad targeting was spot-on, but the content selection was highly irrelevant.

The solution is obvious. YouTube needs a deeper pool of content. It needs to open up its partner program -- the same one that it's been talking about since January but finally rolled out in May -- to more of its user base. Video units won't work with the wafer-thin collection of videos that are presently available.

Imagine that -- someone giving Big G pointers. Now I've streamed everything.

A ride through the YouTube revenue-sharing museum:

  • Google launched its revenue-sharing platform in May.
  • It announced its intention back in January.
  • Still, it's the best way to keep its top content creators, like Lonelygirl15, happy.

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