IT Confidential: Enemy, Enemy, Friend; Enemy, Friend, Enemy...

Online media is like some manic game of musical chairs, where fewer and fewer participants circle until the real competition begins ... some unlikely matches from more rounds of musical companies -- um, chairs.

John Soat, Contributor

October 14, 2005

3 Min Read

The online media game these days is like the computer industry on methamphetamine. Similar to the traditional technology industry, it's a game that's driven by expediency. Its credo: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." But online media is like some manic game of musical chairs, where participants circle each other faster and faster, in smaller and smaller circles, seeking the advantageous spot for when the music stops and the real competition begins.

Let's start with Google's recent high-profile "partnership" with Sun Microsystems, which was heavy on the synergies and light on the realities. Then came Microsoft's "reconciliation" with bitter media rival RealNetworks, which was heavy on the realities (a $760 million antitrust litigation settlement) and light on the synergies. In there somewhere was that Google-NASA thing, which was high-minded (so to speak) but had more questions than answers.

In between there were reports (confirmed) that Microsoft was negotiating with America Online to integrate their networks, and that Microsoft and Yahoo would integrate their instant-messaging systems (confirmed). That was followed by reports that Google, in partnership with cable company Comcast, was in negotiations to buy a big hunk of AOL, mainly (presumably) for the instant-messaging synergies/realities--and to block Microsoft. And while all this was happening, Apple introduced two versions of its wildly popular iPod digital media device, including one for video.

You might get the impression that Google and Microsoft--and Apple, for that matter--know what they're doing. They don't. They're guessing, just like everybody else. Remember those voice-over-IP moves a few weeks back? IM + VoIP = ? Pure guesswork. Here are a few more possible spins around the musical circle--pure guesswork on my part, of course.

Realizing that it has to respond to Google's high-profile partnership with NASA, and sensing a market opportunity in escalating gas prices, always-pragmatic Microsoft buys a 60% stake in Amtrak and says it will explore opportunities in transglobal train travel. Executives are enthusiastic but vague.

In an effort to catch up, database powerhouse Oracle buys failing Delta Airlines. Passengers balk when Oracle CEO Larry Ellison insists on piloting all flights himself.

Looking to capitalize on its New Media momentum, Apple buys video blog Rocketboom, with the idea of turning it into a 24-hour online video entertainment/liberal-news/retro-commercials/ Japanese-animation network. Fox beats Apple to the punch with the launch of "Foxy.tv."

Finally responding to Google's high-profile partnership with Sun, Microsoft reveals its own hardware partnership with Chinese company Lenovo Group, which became the third-largest manufacturer of PCs after its acquisition of IBM's (failing) PC business last year. The deal goes sour, however, when Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, after 24 hours on an airplane and several meals of industrial-strength sushi, vomits at a banquet dinner with the chairman of Lenovo.

I'm sure there are many more musical circles to go--and a few more chairs to be removed--before the music stops. Let's hope they're as entertaining as the ones so far.

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