The playing field changes again… (or, a startup CEO’s outlook on Google, Fox, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft)

Another day, another series of amazing changes in our industry. Today Microsoft got into Google’s Adsense business, Yahoo finally admmitted they are in the content business, and Google is getting into AOL’s brand new video business.

Of course, I look at the world in terms of does the company create content or not.

[ Note: Creating tools like Blogger.com does not mean you make content, it means you make software that allows other folks to create content. ]

Clearly not in the content business:
Google
Microsoft/MSN
Interactive Corp (except for CitySearch)

In denial about being in the content business:
Yahoo

Clearly in the content business:
AOL
CNET
Fox/Newscorp (i.e. IGN)
Yahoo The image

Now, if you look at these two lists and ask yourself who have the most features in both the content business and the web services business it’s ranked like this:

Yahoo – Tons of services (My Yahoo, email, YPN), lots of content.
AOL – Tons of services (IM, email, My AOL), some content.
Fox – Some services (My Space), some content (IGN)
CNET – Few services (Download.com?), Tons of content (everything else).

Clearly the folks in the content business have no fear of having services as well, in stark contrast to the web services companies.

Microsoft has been in the content business on and off for over a decade, but it’s clear with the sale of Slate and their new offerings (Start.com, search, Adsense knockoff) that they want to be a pure Web service provider like Google. InterActive Corp is all about the transaction, with some web services bolted on (Bloglines, Ask Jeeves) in an effort to drive transactions.

I don’t see Google and Microsoft changing their position any time soon. Being a pure service provider gives them the advantage of being the “friendly partner” to media companies out there. If you’re Viacom/CBS, Newscorp, or even a small publisher you have to be looking at Yahoo’s content activities as highly threatening to your business.

Using Overture/YPN or My Yahoo is viewed by many content owners as funding your competitor. For example, if Yahoo Finance is hiring 30 finance writers is Dow Jones (with CBS MarketWatch, WSJ, etc) going to be a big supporter of My Yahoo, Yahoo News, and Overture on a go-forward basis?

(note: I sold Dow Jones my last company, and my brother still works there but I have NO idea what is going on over there. Really, no idea.)

You can do that test all the way down the line with each Yahoo content category, and Google is *loving* it (and I’m sure Microsoft will love it too). Microsoft and Google can come to Dow Jones and with a straight face say “we’re here to support you!” Yahoo walks into that same meeting and the have to explain why seven of their 30 staffers (making that up) used to work for a Dow Jones property.

Now, if Google and Microsoft make a play for AOL then things get really interesting. Two major things would happen:

1. Google would be in the content business overnight (even if it’s at arms length)
or
2. AOL would have their own search and Adsense business (i.e. Microsoft’s search and Adsense knockoff).

No matter how you look at all this content is still king. Every one of these players is dependent on content to drive their businesseither their content (Yahoo), licensed content (Yahoo, AOL), or content partners (AOL, Yahoo, Google).

What a great time to be in the content businesseveryone needs you!

That’s the real difference between today (2003-present) and the the dotcom era (1995-2000). Back then content companies were alone in the wilderness and it was a fight for survival. Now you’ve got huge companies who’ve built their business around either syndicating your content to their portal or syndicating their advertisers down to your websiteand in Yahoo’s case both!

Sometime I think Google has it all figured out and Yahoo is trying to serve to many masters. Then I look at our company and say “gee, we would love to syndicate our content up to Yahoo and sure we would love to try out YPN.” So, I’m open minded about their offerings right now. I’m sure if they launched a car, video game, and gadget blog I would think otherwise.

This business is like one huge chess board with dozens of active players and constantly changing rules. Every day things get more interesting.

God I love this game!

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