Google's Schmidt, Page and Brin hold court at Zeitgeist
Google held its version of the World Economic Forum today, except the setting wasn't Davos but the Internet search giant’s Mountain View, Calif., campus for its Zeitgeist conference. The guests held similar stature in the worlds of business and entertainment: former vice president and current board member Al Gore, General Electric Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt and Hollywood actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Forrest Whitaker.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin took a timeout from the festivities to hold a media roundtable. They discussed a broad range of topics, including the new Google-powered Android phone (although Page declined to show reporters the one he was toting). As they have for months, they fielded a flurry of questions about the proposed search advertising partnership with Yahoo being scrutinized by the Justice Department, European Commission and attorneys general in a number of states including California.
Here are some of the highlights:
Schmidt says Google will go forward with the advertising partnership with or without regulators’ blessing in October. He noted that both companies delayed the partnership for four months to give regulators a chance to review it. He called it a "signed and binding contract."
"Time is money in our business," he said. "We spent months and months and months to come up with a deal that is good for both companies. We are very committed to the deal."
Asked a series of hypothetical questions about what Google would do if the Justice Department tried to limit or block the deal, Schmidt said: "We have been talking to regulators. We do not know their position. We do not know if they think it’s a great deal, a poor deal or if they want changes. I think it’s a mistake for Google to speculate. We honestly just don’t know."
But the details worked out over five months do matter, Schmidt said. So any changes would ...
... have to be carefully considered, he said.
"The deal was designed precisely to meet the terms of antitrust laws in the United States because we knew people would raise these questions," Schmidt said. "We are trying to play by the rules."
Schmidt accused Microsoft and its lobbying machine of fanning the flames of controversy. "I am quite sure that Microsoft is helping everyone get upset about things."
Schmidt did acknowledge that Google did not do a good enough job of explaining the deal. He noted that after the roundtable, the company would remedy the situation by handing out a Q&A to better explain its position.
Why did Google move forward with a deal that would guarantee greater government scrutiny of its growing dominance in online advertising?
"We anticipated these objections," Schmidt said. "This is roughly where we expected to be." He credited Google with moving forward with initiatives "that are either unpopular or are going to lead to criticism" but that he said were in the interests of Google's users.
"To sit there and say that we are not going to do something because we anticipate stress would not be good business," Schmidt said.
Brin: "We are excited to get the first one out there."
He later added: "As much as we can improve people’s access and the availability of the Internet, we view that as important to our mission and important to our business."
ON THE ECONOMY
Schmidt said the financial meltdown was unlikely to affect Google, which has plenty of cash and conservative investments.
"My guess is the drama is in New York, not here. It’s business as usual at Google," he said.
ON ALTERNATIVE ENERGY
Page said Google decided to get into the energy business when it could not find cheap sources of renewable energy. Now it’s using its influence to get companies to come up with innovative solutions to increasing the world's supply. "We have been pushing people a little bit." If the initiatives pay off, Google and others will make a lot of money, he said.
"YouTube monetization is a high priority but not the highest priority," Schmidt said. "It will take some innovation. We are where we should be. We are waiting for the innovations, and the innovations will come. We have our best technical people looking at the new models against this enormous opportunity. We have the luxury of time. That is one of the great things about Google."
Quipped Page: "If only we could schedule the revolution."
ON THE STATE OF THE SILICON VALLEY ECONOMY
Schmidt: "There is certainly some kind of slowdown in Web 2.0 as the market matures."
Brin: "When it’s too easy to get money, then you get kind of a lot of noise mixed in with the real innovation and entrepreneurship. Tough times bring out the best parts of Silicon Valley."
-- Jessica Guynn
Photo: From left, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, CEO Eric Schmidt and co-founder Larry Page in 2004. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press