Ganging Up on Google

Opinion: Neither Microsoft nor Time Warner can tackle Google alone, but an alleged deal between the two companies to build an advertising network could do the trick.

The rumored arrangement—its hard to say whether it rises to the level of being an actual "deal"—between Microsoft and Time Warner, apparently to build an advertising network atop Microsofts AdCenter delivery platform, reminds me of two things and points out a third:

1. My enemys enemy is still a potential good friend. Both Microsoft and Time Warner are threatened by the possibility of Google totally dominating online advertising. Working together clearly makes sense, especially if it can be done on what appears to be an arms-length basis and without a lot of money changing hands.

2. Time Warner is not, nor will it become, a technology company. However, technology is a necessary but not the sole criteria for success in battling Google. Both Microsoft, through MSN, and Time Warner, through AOL and other properties, have the ability to present advertising to lots of users.

/zimages/2/28571.gifMicrosoft testing its own Google Base. Click here to read more.

The ability to drum up a crowd is at least as important as the technology involved in displaying the right ad to the right user. But to achieve success you must have both. Good thing for Time Warner that Microsoft exists and AOL still has a big audience.

This situation also points out that Microsoft cannot go it alone. Microsoft needs Time Warner as much as Time Warner needs Microsoft. Redmond and New York need each other to battle Mountain View. I wonder where Hollywood will land?

You should expect to see Microsoft in the unaccustomed role of "good guy" to Googles "bad guy" in dealing with partners. Also expect to see Microsoft seriously undercut Googles ad pricing to get its new ad network, which should show up early next year, into high gear quickly.

The Microsoft/Time Warner joint ad network will gain instant credibility that neither company could achieve as quickly by itself. It shows a seriousness of purpose in responding to the Google threat that should please potential advertisers and partners.

I dont think anything should be read into earlier speculation that Microsoft would invest in AOL or even buy the service outright. Maintaining separate businesses that share some common technology, and perhaps even a common sales force, seems far enough to go at this time.

As I write this early Tuesday, actual details about the arrangement that Microsoft and Time Warner are working on remain murky. As does Googles likely response, given that it "has a long and continuing contractual arrangement with AOL."

Thus, everything Ive said here could be overtaken by later events, requiring rethinking and revision.

The second half of the first decade of the 21st century is likely to be dominated, at least in some areas, by the battle that has begun between Microsoft and Google.

Customers will likely be the real winners, whatever happens to the companies involved.

Contributing editor David Coursey has spent two decades writing about hardware, software and communications for business customers. He can be reached at

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