Google: Looking to win friends and influence

When some of Google's top executives met to discuss the future of the news business with leading publishers at its Mountain View headquarters last week, one thing stood out: only European newspapers were invited.

Representatives from eight newspaper groups, including the Financial Times, heard some of the search company's top executives promise a complete rethink of Google's approach to news.

According to three people familiar with the meeting, they included Mr Sundar Pichai, Google's product chief, Mr Amit Singhal, a top search engineer, Mr Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's most senior advertising executive, and Ms Susan Wojcicki, head of  YouTube.

The meeting, part of a partnership struck in Europe this year called the Digital News Initiative, is not the first time that Google has tried to win over the news industry like this. Chairman Eric Schmidt went on a charm offensive five years ago, telling a meeting of top United States editors that Google was working to make sure "new forms of making money will develop" for online news.

Since then, the industry's financial position has weakened and the Google News search engine has remained a sore point for many publishers. If the Mountain View meeting was designed to show that things have changed, it worked. "The difference this time is that they have their top engineers behind it," says one news executive. "It's only when the engineers get involved at these companies that they get serious."

All of Google's products that relate to news, including search, YouTube and its apps, are under review, said another. Other motivations appear to be at work, according to two publishers.

Google is on the defensive in Europe, with a new copyright law prompting it to close its News search engine in Spain and an antitrust battle in Brussels exposing its lack of friends in the media world there. The meeting may have helped on that front, too.

Richard Waters

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Google: Looking to win friends and influence'. Print Edition | Subscribe