Google, Viacom stuck in a lovers' quarrel


Granted, things couldn't look bleaker between Google and the content conglomerates now that Viacom has filed a $1 billion lawsuit. Yet it is hard to shake the notion that this really is just a bump on the road toward consummating their star-crossed romance.

That might seem like an awkward way to describe a relationship that seems more like "300" than "Music and Lyrics." But the longer their saber-rattling negotiations drag on, the more their involvement takes on the tenor of a relationship on the rocks than a battle of corporate wills. The more the two sides claim they are drifting apart, the more inevitable it seems that they will get back together.

Let's go back to the time these crazy kids first met. At first, the sparks flew as they are wont to do with young love. YouTube was this fresh-faced ingenue that turned Big Media's world upside down. Flirtation ensued in the form of modest partnerships with the likes of NBC Universal and CBS Corp., which made modest amounts of programming available for marketing purposes. It was the equivalent of leaving their toothbrush but not moving in just yet. Still, this was all happening so soon.

Then things started to get serious. They started talking about settling down, doing a more substantive deal. Then everything started falling apart. The partnership with CBS Corp. crumbled. NBC Uni CEO Jeff Zucker complained about lackluster copyright protection. But Google seemed to have commitment issues, and it wouldn't put the appropriate filtering technology in place.

Suddenly, initial promise was obscured by all these problems. As with any rocky relationship, both sides claim to be constantly talking to each other, yet nothing ever seems to get resolved.

Now they're on the outs, and that's when the mind games began. Last week, Viacom chairman Philippe Dauman remarked at an investors conference, "We may do a deal with them some day, or we may not." As if playing hard to get ever worked.

Viacom does not like to be toyed with. It even took back its entire video collection from YouTube. Can't you just picture the box of records sitting outside the apartment door?

Now Viacom doesn't know what to do with itself. The company is playing videos on its own sites, getting in that requisite "me" time that seems to follow a breakup. Just to make Google jealous, it started to see other people, like Joost.

Can you blame Viacom? The company lost out on acquiring MySpace. It doesn't want to get hurt again.

Google is pretending it has moved on. The company has signed a string of deals with midlevel content players like the NBA, Hollywood Records and Ford Motor Co. But these are cheap floozies compared to a woman of real substance like Viacom. There's still an emptiness inside.

And what are they fighting over, really? As in any relationship, it is rare that the subject you are nominally squabbling about is truly the source of the conflict. Sure, the content companies can't stop squawking about digital-rights management, but that isn't the real bone of contention. That's like arguing over lifting the toilet seat.

So what are Google and Big Media really fighting about? What all couples fret over: money. Google doesn't seem to think the content that is at the core of Hollywood's business is worth as much as they think it is. The right amount would ensure that any lingering concerns about DRM go away.

But let's face it: Google and Hollywood are meant to be together. YouTube is the promotional platform too powerful to ignore. Hollywood has the top-shelf content that YouTube can't do without. You're made for each other.

It's time to kiss and make up. All is fair in love and Internet video.