The Internet business model is about to radically change — who will survive?

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

For awhile there, up until the 1970s or so, the Big 3 automakers almost became the Big 4, as American Motors Company was knocking on the door of the triumvirate GM/Ford/Chrysler. But funky AMC just wasn’t well rounded or mainstream enough, and eventually was acquired by Chrysler. So the Big 3 never became the Big 4.

Today, the Big 4 American companies are not automakers, but Internet giants — without argument, they are Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, though maybe not in that order of importance. They are in their own league; and Apple is different than, say, Microsoft, because Apple has the devices and OS people carry with them everywhere, along with iTunes.

But are 4 too many? Will the Big 4 become the Big 3? Can America really support more than 3 giants in any one area?

The whole Internet business model is about to change, as well. Devices like Amazon’s Echo with Alexa and Google Home — along with Apple’s Siri — are changing the way people search for things, and search is the lifeblood of the Internet.

Large numbers of people prefer speaking commands over typing them. Just, we were stuck with the model of typing into Google or Bing or maybe even Yahoo! and searching that way. Voice technology hadn’t caught up, until now.

It’s like how print newspapers and paper phone books were kings, before other technologies came along. And print’s revenue stream also diminished. Once people had a choice, they chose to leave print.

People did text searches on Google and other search engines not because they liked to, but because they had to. Big difference.

Of those people who really are not typers, they were the ones more likely to also click on the ads that came up in search. They were more clumsy on the web, or not good at telling the difference between organic and sponsored content. They grew frustrated with the web.

Those people — the ones who clicked on text ads — will be moving over to voice-based search en masse. Voice-based search will not have advertising opportunities — users don’t want to pay for an expensive device and then have to deal with ads.

We already see the podcast ad-model failing, as research shows people skip or fast-forward such ads. Radio-style ads just don’t work on the free Internet. If someone is searching, for, say, the nearest pizza place, they don’t want to be hoodwinked and taken to a pizza place 10 miles away that also happened to buy an ad. They want objective, organic, useful results.

I will break down the Big 4, and offer why they may become a mere Big 3 soon. First, look at my spiffy chart. It details what each media giant is known for.

“Transactional” means that the entity makes money off of commerce, for example people buying books off of Amazon or songs off of iTunes. People are comfortable using these media entities to do business. “Product/Physical” means that the company actually sells its own branded goods, such as the Amazon Echo or iPhone. “Content Advertising” means that the business makes a significant portion of its money off of ads served to people it has data-mined.

Google
Google outpaced other search engines since the 1990s by having high integrity with its search return results.

But Google does make a lot of money off of those little text ads that appear next to the organic results, while Google’s YouTube ads have been under assault thanks to a boycott by major advertisers over the content there.

Google could be in a lot of trouble if — like newspapers, the majority of which floundered going from print to web — Google’s previous ad model doesn’t translate to this new voice-based frontier.

However, Google has strong presence with the most popular browser and phone OS and strong voice recognition software. They should be fine.

Amazon
Amazon may have some “content advertising” but not enough to get a checkmark on my chart. Still, they are in great shape with Alexa leading the home market for voice and its strong transactional model of taking a cut of the sale on practically any sellable item in the world. Amazon is the Walmart of the Internet. They may take a shot at being No. 1 of the Big 4.

Facebook
Facebook has little diversity with its revenue streams. It has no products, no OS, doesn’t have much of a transactional aspect to it — you can’t use Facebook to pay for your Big Gulp at 7-Eleven — and its audience, while large, is aging. Good for them, they added young-skewing Instagram to their company and really have done a good job with it, ousting Snapchat as tops in that social media sphere.

Facebook is relying on people to buy ads on its platforms, and that’s it. So traffic is key for the site — but as people go from writers and readers to speakers and listeners, what is Facebook’s plan for that? I don’t think it really has one. Of the Big 4, Facebook is most likely to be AMC and turn the Big 4 into the Big 3. Maybe all of social media is at risk.

Apple
Apple has the best original products of the Big 4. Perhaps to stick with the car analogy, they are putting out Cadillacs and Lincolns. They have a nice and popular OS and Siri is the grandmother of voice-activated search. While Siri wasn’t good at first, it is improving. They have a solid transactional model, and, in fact, that’s how the Big 4 can survive the coming revolution in search — instead of fetching ads, these companies can make their money by taking a cut of each transaction.

For example, until now, Google may make its money by companies buying ads to show up in search fields alongside organic content. With voice search becoming king, Google won’t be able to deliver sponsored content — people won’t stand for it in audio form — but, instead, Google — and maybe Apple and Amazon — can make their money not by corrupting searches but instead by taking a piece of the action.

For example, if someone queries the local pizza place, Alexa or Siri or the Google Assistant will give him a real result. But, when he goes to pay for that pizza, the media entity will get, say, half of a percent of the sale.

Here’s how it could play out:

Siri, where is the local pizza place?

It’s Al’s Pizza on 32 Main Street. Would you like to place an order?

Yes, I would like a large pie with extra cheese and meatballs.

That will be $21.81. Would you like to pay now?

Yes.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Your pizza will be ready in 25 minutes.

(Apple gets a percent of that sale, along with Mastercard or whatever card you have on file with them; the rest goes to the merchant, happy for the business. Or, if you don’t pay now, when you get to the merchant, maybe you will use Apple Pay or similar.)

So, don’t worry. Even though online advertising is going to die soon, at least 3 out of the Big 4 will be fine.

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