THERE ARE more than 1 billion people online -- all connected, creating, communicating and looking for information. It is the biggest market the world has ever known, and it has spawned the most targeted and measurable form of advertising we've ever seen.
Digital networks have rewritten the rules of production and distribution of content. For the first time, the mass exchange of text, audio and video across time and geography is possible; anyone can publish comments through a blog, record songs for an online community of fans or share videos with users worldwide -- all at minimal cost and with almost no external help.
What's more, the people using these services view themselves not as passive recipients of content but as active participants in the creative process. Trying either to control user preferences or to curtail their choices is doomed to failure.
This is an incredibly exciting and inspiring period. But for some it's also a worrisome time. A recent story in the New York Times, for instance, questioned whether Google has become a "mate or menace" in today's media market. As Google continues to grow (recently, we closed our $1.65-billion acquisition of YouTube Inc.), some are concerned that we're going to become a threat to media companies -- essentially by becoming a media company ourselves.
This couldn't be further from the truth. We don't own or create content (which we think is an essential part of being a media company) -- nor do we intend to. We help people find it, organize it and share it -- anytime, anywhere, on any device.
At Google, we believe that content providers large and small can benefit from the Internet's rising tide. The fact is, benefits abound in this new environment, and they aren't just limited to users. There are also valuable new opportunities for established players that have maintained successful content businesses for decades.
The classic, and now well-known, example is the music industry. Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes store didn't even exist four years ago. Arguably, every one of the songs on iTunes could be acquired illegally through file-sharing networks. But iTunes presents users with a compelling, easy-to-use, legitimate offering. Today it has sold more than a billion songs online.
That's just one example. Another is the Killers -- a band that embraced online media by making behind-the-scenes footage of its "When You Were Young" music video available online well before the group's album went on sale. Upon release, the album promptly skyrocketed to No. 2 on the Billboard top-200 chart, and it remains in the top 40 today.
The Internet has made it possible for content owners to interact with users, harnessing their talents, ingenuity and enthusiasm in ways that were unimaginable just 10 years ago. It is no small irony that major music labels, whose business models have experienced some of the greatest disruption from the Internet, are among the most creative about embracing the Internet today. Rather than impeding user activity, these media companies are eager to explore new ways to benefit from user interest -- while retaining the legitimacy of their copyrighted material.
For example, Sony BMG Music Entertainment allowed users to create spoofs of Shakira's "These Hips Don't Lie" video. The top spoof became more popular on Google Video than the original music video itself, generating nearly 12 million plays. But instead of limiting Shakira's reach, the user-generated content helped make her catchy song even more popular.
Music labels aren't the only ones that are appreciating the power of this new medium. Others are exploring ways to enhance their professional content with user-generated content. This summer, for example, NBC ran an online competition in which fans made their own promotions for the hit show "The Office" that ran alongside "webisodes" produced specifically for Internet consumption. And as part of a pioneering strategy to learn about and build a lasting online-video business, CBS continues to offer an array of episodes and clips with a number of online partners and on its own destination sites.
This type of collaboration is what the Internet is all about. One company's success doesn't have to come at another's expense. At Google, we have hundreds of thousands of online publishing partners (from large ones you've heard of, like MySpace, to smaller ones that are less known, such as seatguru.com), whose revenues derive in part from the advertising we place on their websites. In fact, this last quarter we paid about $780 million to such partner websites. We're focused on helping traditional businesses evolve on the Internet. These companies need to be supported in protecting their content. To prevent the distribution of copyright-infringing videos, for example, Google gives companies the power to take their own content down quickly and easily.