It’s Not Easy Being Google: Honchos Feeling the Pushback

Google chair Eric Schmidt preached to the unconverted at a European TV fest, even as co-founder Larry Page faces many woes as CEO

With the dust just starting to settle over Eric Schmidt’s address to Edinburgh’s annual television festival on Friday — the Google chairman’s reviews were mixed — the Wall Street Journal has now outlined all the challenges facing co-founder and CEO since April, Larry Page.

The Journal’s view: Page “had promised that he would shake up the Internet search giant to speed up decision making. Instead, much of the shaking up has happened to the new CEO.”

As the 11th biggest U.S. company in terms of stock market value, Google is not exactly one of tech’s problem children, but the company indeed has some brush to clear as they try to expand on their dominance in search.

The loudest ding came last week when federal prosecutors ordered Google to pay $500 million for allowing ads from illegal online pharmacies and fingered Page as fully knowledgeable of the violation of FDA rules.

Also read: Bitter Pill: Google Forfeits $500M Generated by Online Canadian Pharmacies

An irony Page could not have enjoyed, given his consistent touting of stashing Gmail messages so they can be conveniently searched later, was that it was apparently his own email hoard that led to the accusation.

The online wags who watch Silicon Valley were quick to note that the evidence was not merely in his inbox, but also in his outbox, implying greater complicity.

Though Schmidt was careful in his Edinburgh speech to disavow any urge to create content within Google — “Trust me, if you gave people at Google free rein to produce TV you’d end up with a lot of bad sci-fi!” — the company has had trouble lately getting the  bigger content providers to fully cooperate in feeding their platform.

A hoped-for, comprehensive deal with music labels to let Google’s web music service sell songs and albums collapsed. The launch of Google TV, requiring a set top box and a full set of tech-wonk chops, was underwhelming.

That shortfall probably led directly to first, a failed attempt to acquire a gaggle of Nortel Network patents, and more recently to the acquisition of Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion. The latter move may have been a stopgap measure, as Schmidt told the Edinburgh audience that he expects Google TV to be incorporated within all brands of television sets within five years.

Also read: Google's Motorola Deal Makes It Clear: The Future's Going Mobile

In any event, Schmidt further promised that Google TV will launch in Europe early next year.

The burden of Schmidt’s address was to remind Brit broadcasters that web-fueled change is coming, and to win some trust. “In this journey Google seeks to be your partner, not your foe," he said. "So think big, think global, and think beyond the TV box. Don’t hold back from the journey.”

The address, rich in idiomatic Brit phrasing and attributed by the Guardian to the deft writing of former journalist, Google U.K. spinmeister Peter Barron, insisted that “growth is the solution to nearly all societal problems."

Other bullet points: "if content is king, context is its crown" and "we’re scarcely at the first act of the internet age.”

During Google's earnings call with analysts in July, Page noted some early success with the social media catch-up strategy of Google+ and asserted that the company is only at 1 percent of what is possible, adding, "that is why I am working hard to lead the company into the next level.”

But it won't necessarily be easy,  as the Journal, and Schmidt himself, suggest. During his Edinburgh speech, he addressed the privacy minefields the company must navigate.

“As I’ve learned first-hand, any online service that involves personal data will be a magnet for privacy fears," Schmidt said. "It will be vital to strike the right balance, so people feel comfortable and in control, not disconcerted by the eerie accuracy of suggestions."

He said a mouthful there.