Google's take on the world and other Sun Valley tidbits
Continuing a recent tradition, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt held court with the press at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, where he called the current economy "the new normal."
Companies need to "figure out how to be happy and get our lives together in this new configuration," Schmidt said, adding, "You can't waste money; credit is tight."
Schmidt, who was joined by Google co-founder Larry Page, spoke on a variety of topics ranging from Apple CEO Steve Jobs' health and concerns about Google's power to whether Twitter and Facebook are hurting Google. Schmidt, who is on the board of Apple, said he was "well informed" about Jobs' condition. He declined to comment on whether Apple should have been more forthcoming about Jobs, who underwent a liver transplant.
As for worries about Google's size on the part of regulators here and abroad, Schmidt said competitors were trying to stir things up. "We now expect governments to look at what we're doing ... we respect their role."
Schmidt still believes in MySpace, the struggling social networking site owned by News Corp. with which Google struck a $900-million advertising deal several years ago. "We like MySpace a lot," Schmidt said, although he declined to say whether the company would renew its ad deal with the site when it expires next year.
Schmidt expressed admiration for Hulu, the video site whose owners include News Corp. and NBC Universal, and said he hoped to get more professional content on YouTube. Asked when YouTube, for which Google paid $1.65 billion, would turn a profit, Schmidt said he wouldn't make predictions while Page said a timeline for YouTube to make a buck was "just not that important."
The tone of the conference on Day 3 was still somber. On a panel about global management, General Electric Co. CEO Jeff Immelt lamented the state of education in the U.S.,, complaining that his company has to go outside the U.S. for the best people. As for the economy, Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP Group, a huge advertising conglomerate, told reporters, "we don't see things improving."
News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch was also bearish, telling his Fox Business Network, “I’m shocked at the business mood, which is talking about either that we’re at the bottom or going lower, but that it’s going to take years and years, like five years at least before we see any real growth coming out of this.”
The conference was not without its lighter moments. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was walking out to lunch past a gantlet of reporters who were asking about Google's plans to launch an operating system to rival Windows when a voice behind him said, "Better if you not comment." It belonged to Google's Schmidt.
Sony Corp. CEO Howard Stringer may have had the best quip of the day. Asked about the success of Twitter and other social networking sites, Stringer said, "A lot of people are doing very well at making very little money. It's not a club I'm looking to join."
-- Joe Flint
Photo: Larry Page and Eric Schmidt by Peter Foley / European Pressphoto Agency