Anyone needing further evidence that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) is a Rule Breaker got it Sunday. Thanks to YouTube and sponsor Red Bull, more than 32 million watched as Austria's Felix Baumgartner performed a parachute jump from Earth's stratosphere. He landed safely despite, at one point, achieving Mach 1 in freefall:
In years past, a stunt like this would have merited a one-hour special on a major TV network. Publicists and ad executives at CBS, Walt Disney's ABC, or Comcast's NBC would have created a massive marketing campaign to lure in advertisers willing to pay a hefty premium for access to a captive audience.
Think of Geraldo Rivera's ill-fated 1986 broadcast, "The Mystery of Al Capone's Vaults ," which, disappointingly, proved empty upon opening. Host station WGN nevertheless won big because of huge, hype-driven ratings.
Networks weren't involved this time, left out just as they were in 1974, when daredevil Evel Knievel attempted and failed to clear a jump of Idaho's Snake River Canyon. Promoters charged fees for broadcasting the event on closed-circuit television, or CCTV.
Red Bull veered some from Knievel's approach -- anyone with a Web connection was free to watch -- but the disruptive outcome appears to have been equally breathtaking. With one stunt, the energy drink supplier generated tens of millions of ad impressions, all without the aid of a major broadcast network.