This is a great interview by Business Week of Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer on Web 2.0 valuations and the competitive landscape up at the top of the heap, where Ballmer suggests only companies like MS, Google, Yahoo, and EBAY can even afford to think about doing the billion dollar deals. It’s a key point often lost on those who like to see valuations based more on financials and profits. Ballmer is noting that the competitive landscape can change these values.
But most interesting is this assertion:
The truth is what Google is doing now is transferring the wealth out of the hands of rights holders into Google. So media companies around the world are all threatened by Google. Why? Because basically Google is telling you how much of your ad revenue you get to keep.They better get some competition. Us. Yahoo!. Somebody better break through or you can short all media stocks right now. As long as there are two, you can hold onto media stocks. Google understands that. And that’s one reason why they’re willing to lose money up front.
Fascinating. He’s saying that Google’s trying to *monopolize* the media market. I certainly think there is some truth to this though we are way past the good old days where barriers to entry could let a big, rich, clever company – let’s say Microsoft – really do a good monopoly play on things everybody needed to use with computers. Part of the Google advantage he’s leaving out is that they really do intend to share most of the revenues with the producers and they have become so good at monetizing that, Google could argue reasonably, you’ll make more sharing revenues with Google than building your own advertising networks. My experiences comparing adsense returns to “roll your own ads” are fairly extensive and I can say that it’s very hard to beat adsense returns by creating your own advertising streams *even excluding the potentially huge cost of a sales staff*.
I think the main exception to Adsense as the best choice is what we see at super targeted niche sites like TechCrunch.com where they can charge about 10k monthly for a modest sized graphical advertisment. Battelle’s Federated Media is hoping to bring this targeting advantage to a broader network of sites but I remain guarded in my optimism that Google’s highly automated and calibrated approaches won’t do a better job than humans do in most advertising spaces.
So, I think Ballmer’s right that competition will help publishers, but Yahoo and MSN sure better strap on the thinking caps and get their contextual advertising networks working much better than they currently work at providing revenue to all of us hard working internet small time publishing people out here.
Also, and this advice to MS and Yahoo is free and will knock Google out of the driver’s seat in a few months: Launch your contextual ad networks with a 100% revenue share as an incentive for publishers to switch over. At 43% of Google’s revenue Adsense is a huge factor at Google.