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Google has long (in Internet time) exhibited dominance in the contextual-ad-serving world. Fueled by its supremacy in search engine usage and augmented by its AdSense publisher network, Google’s sphere of influence has only grown over the last 18 months. Until recently, text advertising has been what Google’s done best, acting as a virtual barometer of the online ad industry’s health.

All that is changing.

No, Google’s dominance isn’t going away anytime soon. But those text ads may be replaced, in many cases, by rich media and video advertising if the search engine has its way.

Google’s been the direct response darling for years. Virtually its entire ad revenue stream has been based on direct response advertising. Now, it’s making significant moves to capture the brand advertising dollars that have evaded it, through savvy acquisitions, expansion of current technology, and new tools that seek to change the way we look at the search giant.

Here are just a few ways Google’s cleverly shifting the landscape and positioning itself for a world beyond text.

The YouTube Acquisition

We all know about Google’s mega acquisition of YouTube in 2006. While everyone’s focused on the copyright issues, one thing can’t be overlooked: the acquisition gave Google not only a huge media property but also a valuable decentralized content distribution tool. Imagine a world in which the video that’s typically embedded in rich media ad units is portable, shareable, and distributed. So long as YouTube can figure out a way to support its bandwidth costs (either via advertising or charging back), why couldn’t everyone’s videos be served this way? Obviously, quality is an issue. But if that can be overcome, YouTube takes on yet another value proposition for Google.

AdSense Evolved

Google’s a technology company. Its bread and butter is targeted delivery of contextually relevant advertising. If, through acquisition or development, it can create an ad delivery mechanism that’s as targeted to video content (or rich media) as it is to text, then not only will direct response advertisers flock to utilize Google’s video solution, so will brand advertisers. And if interaction with that advertising is paid for on a per-click/-view basis, Google’s traditional model will make the transition to video. If the solution is proprietary, how can other networks compete?

There are technologies already flirting with this scenario, such as ScanScout, YuMe Networks, and VideoEgg. Whether Google views any of these companies as a solution or inspiration is anyone’s guess.

Furthermore, Google’s pioneering of the self-serve online advertising platform could, in theory, evolve the role rich media plays in every ad campaign. If the opportunity to create, deliver, and target rich media and video advertising were made available to every small business owner holding a credit card, advertising could undergo serious expansion.

Multi-platform Reach

Google’s reach extends from the Web to the desktop. From mobile to radio. With satellite TV on the way, not to mention numerous other platforms, Google could potentially distribute rich media and video advertising to anyone. With a singular reporting and targeting mechanism, Google could redefine multimedia ad delivery.

Potential DoubleClick Acquisition?

This one’s a game changer — if it happens. Google is already the Web’s largest ad-serving platform. If Google were to buy DoubleClick, it becomes the Web’s largest display-ad-serving platform. Developments that facilitate media buying, such as DoubleClick’s Ad Exchange, further position the company squarely in Google’s wheelhouse. Even if all this talk is just to drive up DoubleClick’s asking price, Google has tremendous liquidity and can make something like this a reality quicker than anyone else — without an acquisition.

These are but a few ways in which Google is poised to redefine rich media. As it continues to duke it out with Microsoft (and everyone else, it seems), the leadership position is its to assume if the right resources and talent are correctly allocated.

Keep a close eye on Google. Its home page may be simple, but its ad platform may be about to get a lot more complicated.

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