CES Day Four: Google Video, A Kinder, More Gentler DRM
I had a good opportunity today to visit with Google and talk about, among other things, there new Google Video Player that is scheduled to be out in the next few days. At the keynote address here at CES Google announced their venture into the pay per download business and that will now be integrated into their Google video service to complement their free video streams and downloads that they have today.
The big Google distinction between how they will offer their pay downloads vs. the other guys is that Google is going to actually let you download your paid download files on to your computer and then allow you total control over the file. Want to copy it to your laptop? No problem. To your portable device? Hey, it’s your file, you paid for it, why not. Of course you can’t just allow people free and easy access with no controls or the content providers would not license their content. How then does Google secure their paid downloads, by using a log on authentication system. Basically you will download the new Google proprietary media player with secret and proprietary codecs and it will play all of your video for you. Basically when you want to view your content anywhere, any device, any time, you’ll just authenticate with your user ID and password and be able to play your previously downloaded free and purchased video.
Google will of course monitor log ons and passwords for abuse (i.e. you give you your Google video files to 100 of your friends along with your user name and password. This does seem like a nicer approach to the necessary evil of DRM. The only thing that I’m not crazy about is that the files will be in gvi format which is Google proprietary and I’d assume after building up a nice library there could be a chance that they change the rules on you, but nahhhh a non-evil company would never do that. Would they?
The Google engineer that I spoke with told me that for right now there will be no high def downloads. He did say though that the downloaded files should be better quality than standard definition television. When I asked why no high def downloads he cited wanting to keep the user experience a good one. By downloading high def it would take longer and perhaps not provide the best experience. Personally, I think the issue has as much to do with large file bandwidth costs as anything but for now there will be no high def content available. He did say though that they are always exploring making the experience better for the end user and that they certainly would continue to look at things like high def. He also did note though that the ultimate quality of a lot of the free video will be limited by the uploaded material. If someone records something off of a webcam, you’re never going to get something that looks even anywhere close to standard definition television.
With the proliferation of high def personal camcorders, I do hope that Google revisits their policy on this going forward and allows us access to high def content in the future. Personally I don’t care if it takes five hours to download a high def video, I’ll set my downloads up and then go to bed and watch them tomorrow. I’m sure though the bandwidth cost issue for high def will remain an issue for any free service in the foreseeable future.
The Google video service in addition to allowing you to search videos will also let you browse by “popular” video, a random grab bag of some of the most watched video content uploaded to Google video. According to the engineer the most watched video on Google ever is this video of two Asian kids lip synching to the Backstreet Boys.
Speaking of The Backstreet boys I also asked the engineer about copyright issues. I mean clearly the Backstreet Boys or some record company somewhere owns the license to their song being lip synched on Google’s most popular video ever, wouldn’t this be a copyright violation? According to the engineer Google basically takes no copyright liability with their service. As part of their TOS basically the uploader confirms that there are no copyright problems and that they are in fact the legal owner of the content that they are uploading and assumes the liability if copyright laws are broken. He did say that if notified by copyright holders of violations that Google would also remove those files from the service. Still, their most popular video ever contains copyrighted material that may not have been authorized but I guess if the Backstreet Boys aren’t complaining I certainly am not either.
The engineer also shared with me how anyone can make money with Google Video. Basically any content provider from the 16 year old skate punk making homemade videos to the high end indie documentary film maker can upload video and set a price for the download. The price can be anywhere from free to the skies the limit. Whatever you decide to charge, Google keeps 30% and you get 70%. One thing I will say is that I do applaud Google’s transparency with this product. Unlike the secret mix that goes on with shared revenue in AdSense, by publicly telling you what the split is this seems to me a more open and transparent and dare I say non-evil way of doing business.
One minor note is that if you uploading free content to Google Video it may be difficult for you to insert advertising yourself or make money on this. The primary barrier is the fact that Google will not let you know how many times your video has been watched or downloaded on free content and thus you’ll have a hard time letting advertisers know their impressions, hits, etc. The engineer did say on the paid downloads that Google will share this information with the content providers.
I was struck by how similar this Google Video service is to the Brightcove model. I interviewed Jeremy Allaire about Brightcove a ways back and much of what I heard from Google about their service reminded me of the types of things he was doing.
I also asked the engineer about the possibility of playing Google video in some kind of a more general home media player similar to Yahoo’s new Go TV service or Microsoft’s Media Center and he said that at present this was not possible. At present they do not have a more general robust home media package or any easy way to say get this content to your television set. This is a weakness in my opinion and perhaps more than ever points to why a Google/TiVo deal would make so much sense. TiVo of course being an open source based player would be right up Google’s alley and would seem to represent a natural way for them to extend Google video into the living room. And as cheap as TiVo’s stock is and as expensive as Google’s stock is it would seem to me to cost them next to nothing to do.
Of course no engineer would be foolish enough to comment in any meaningful way about an idea such as this but when I brought TiVo up the engineer that I spoke with did have very good things to say about TiVo and said that he personally thought they were a great company and admired them. This of course means nothing but it sure would be something if at some point Google brought TiVo as the logical extension of Google Video into the fold.
On a separate note I also spent a little bit of time talking to the engineer there representing Google’s Image Search
product. I was particularly interested in why Google is sending so much Image Search traffic my way. For instance, at present I have the number two image search result on the first page search results for the term “love” (it moves though so it may not be there when you check). I’m not sure why I’m so lucky or perhaps loveable but the engineer indicated that Image Search rank is largely based on overall and specific page Google Page Rank. So because I have a fairly decent overall Google Page Rank for my blog (six the last time I checked) and the fact that I have over 3,000 images indexed with Google is why my results on the image search side tend to do so well. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with this answer as oftentimes while I may rank very high for one image (love for example), I will not rank as high for other images on my pages with much more obscure search titles.
Two things I will add about the Google engineers. First, they genuinely seem to *love* what they do. Their enthusiasm for their products and their company and even more than this for genuinely building a better user internet experience really shines through. They are some of the most passionate company employees that I’ve met from any company. Of course it helps when your stocks doing as well and many are quite rich at this point but it definitely stands out. Secondly, they are quite careful as a bunch to not really say anything about their products or plans that is not public knowledge. They seem to think carefully before answering questions and it seemed to me that part of their deliberation was to carefully ensure that with their answer they were not telling you anything they shouldn’t be. Routinely they provide answers like, we don’t publicly release that information at present, etc. This was more my sense of interacting with them than anything concrete or specific.