Google, Yahoo and Microsoft in NAA Cage Match

naa.gifIt’s not often you get the chance to see representatives from Google, Microsoft and Yahoo sitting in close proximity on the same stage. At yesterday’s Newspaper Association of American conference here in NYC, I was among the few to experience just that. The main goal of the “Partnerships in Transition” panel was to help newspaper publisher execs understand just what these Web behemoths want with them already. I’m not sure they got their answer, but things were sure interesting in the meantime.

I’ll start by describing the limited contributions made by Harry Patz, GM communications sector for North America at Microsoft. Since the company hasn’t done a whole lot with newspaper publishers, he seemed to be there simply to help foster future relationships (and to round out the Yahoo/Google representation). When he did mention what Microsoft has to offer those publishers, he stressed the huge number of users of Microsoft products, and all the opportunities for them to serve content in those applications. For instance, Patz more than once said newspaper headlines could scroll alongside a game interface while users play their Xbox.

Wha?

Microsoft got a little ribbing from Tom Phillips, director of print ads at Google, who when discussing Google’s product development process and fast-moving corporate culture, said, “It’s not about packaged software.” Google doesn’t take years to launch a new product, he continued. Ouch.

As for the countless products Google releases, the question was raised as to what good all these products are if partners (like newspaper publishers) aren’t aware of them or how they could benefit their businesses. Phillips admitted intra-company communication among departments is lacking at Google. “Frankly we have some work to do to make that better.” He added, “Hilary has done a good job of that at Yahoo,” referring to the woman sitting beside him, Hilary Schneider, SVP marketplace at Yahoo.

That was a pleasant thing to say, but Phillips also had a little jab for Schneider, who had a long history with the newspaper industry, most recently at Knight Ridder before it was sold off to McClatchy. At one point someone suggested that Yahoo has more relationships with paper publishers (through its newspaper consortium, now 15 publishers-strong) than Google does through its print program. (Google has 40 newspaper publisher partners in its print program, according to Phillips.)

Phillips commented, “Hilary’s done a fabulous job with the press.” Uncomfortable laughter ensued. Yikes.

Of course, the elephant in the room throughout the conversation was the fact that, now that Google owns DoubleClick, it’s in direct competition with Yahoo (Panama) for newspaper publisher ad serving clients.

“We want to be your ad server on your digital domain,” said Phillips. And speaking of the to-be-integrated DoubleGoo ad serving platform, he stopped himself from saying anything too brazen. Instead, he settled on, “It’ll be the world’s best ad server.”

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