Google Play exec says big media can't ignore service (Q&A)

Jamie Rosenberg says the reason Google Play has more movies and music than ever has less to do with Google's piracy fighting and more to do with fact that Android devices are everywhere.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
6 min read
Jamie Rosenberg, is the guy leading the team that strikes Google Play's content deals. Google

Look at Google go.

Not only are the new Android-powered Nexus devices here but Google has loaded the gadgets with more movies and music. For the first time, Google Play, the new name given to the old Android Market, can boast licensing deals with all the major music labels and film studios. That must have taken some doing.

Big entertainment companies have long complained about what they perceived as Google's reluctance to help protect copyrighted works from online pirates. But Android devices are everywhere and the popularity of the operating system makes it difficult for music and film companies to turn their backs.

Jamie Rosenberg is vice president of digital content at Google and the man leading the group that strikes those content deals. He's one of the Google execs who must take on Eddy Cue, the longtime Apple exec who oversees that company's content acquisition. Formerly, Rosenberg worked at Microsoft after Danger, the company that created the T-Mobile Sidekick, was acquired by the software giant. One of Danger's founders was Andy Rubin, one of the founders of Android.

Rosenberg sat down with CNET to discuss Google Play's content partnerships.

Q: You guys struggled early on to get content. You now have deals with all the major music labels and Hollywood studios. What helped you turn the corner?
Rosenberg: I think we have consistently shown rapid and steady progress with our investment in building great experiences around digital content and a great distribution channel for our content partners to participate. With the momentum of Android, the introduction of Google Play as a brand, the introduction of Nexus 7 as a phenomenal tablet for the delivery of digital content and services, we just established how committed we are to making this business successful with Google.

The big studios and labels used to complain a lot about Google and what they considered was foot dragging on content protection. They wanted you guys fighting piracy. And you guys have boosted more antipiracy efforts, with search you made it harder to find alleged pirate sites, you did filtering. Do you think that helped you guys cut these content deals?
Rosenberg: I think that what was most important, frankly, was like I said, the continued progress with Google Play as a premium content distribution platform and the way that we made available to the content community the massive reach of Android, the massive reach of Google to distribute their products and monetize their content. I think that's what has caught the attention of the industry as we've just continued to demonstrate that we're very serious about partnering with them to build a business.

You guys got dinged early on about the lack of transactions at Android. It was hard to get Android users to dip into their wallets to buy content and apps. Can you tell me how that's changed?
Rosenberg: Well, what we've done over the past couple of years is made investments in several aspects of our ability to be a retailer of digital goods. What we've seen is that there's very much an action and reaction dynamic where every time we do something that we think will help, it helps. One of the first things that started to show dramatic results was when we implemented support for in-app billing for the app developer community and that has taken off substantially for app and game developers to the extent in-app billing comprises the majority of transactions for our apps and games. Then we made investments integrating with carriers to use their billing solutions.

Android Josh Miller/CNET

Now nearly 50 percent the Android install base has the ability to pay for apps and games and other content through their carrier phone bill. We recently added Verizon to that list, which we're very excited about. With respect to our content services, which are newer, we've made a very aggressive push around international expansion, so our e-books offering is now in ten countries, our movies offering is now in nine countries, our music offering is now in six countries. Predictably, every time we do that our business grows. Over the summer, we came out with a phenomenal tablet that brought it all together on a place that has really been a powerhouse for content consumption. What I'm encouraged about is that we lay out a plan, things that we think will grow the business, we execute on those things and then we grow the business.

The reach and growth of Android is the secret sauce, right? There are too many Android owners for the content community to ignore.
Rosenberg: When I think back to just over two years ago when I joined the team, we were first working on the strategy and the Android install base was just a fraction of the 500 million-plus activations that we've accumulated as of today. So the pace there has been rapid and that has represented a phenomenal distribution base for a service like Google Play. But the other thing to keep in mind is we call it Google Play for a reason. It's not just Android, it's Google. In addition to the reach of Android, we have the reach of Google on the Web as well. All of our content services have been designed to be accessible via Web browsers in addition to Android devices. One of the things that I really like about our strategy is that it's a Google-wide strategy, not just an Android strategy.

That's a perfect segue for my next question. I've talked to the studios and labels and they say there's been a lot of confusion about just who's making the content deals for Google. There's the Android group and then there's the YouTube guys striking content deals. There are a lot of face changes from one group to another.
Rosenberg: We actually collaborate very closely with YouTube on many things we're doing, across our business and theirs. Sometimes it's a case that the products we're working on and the service we're working on enables us or requires us to deal independently with the content community, sometimes we collaborate. It tends to be situation specific, but in all cases we're very much coordinated.

So you don't think there should be any confusion?
Rosenberg: No, as with any big company sometimes we have to answer questions from partners about who does what inside the company and sometimes we have to ask them those very same questions. With multiple parts of Google providing opportunities for the content industry, it's not surprising to me that they have questions and every time we meet with them we're happy to answer those questions.

Why doesn't one group handle content acquisition for everybody at Google?
Rosenberg: We tend to evaluate that on a product by product basis, a service by service basis. I don't think there's a pat answer to that question. We look at what are the needs of the particular product or service. What type of deal we want to strike, how broad should that deal be and then we go execute against that with the people we have to do it.

Can you give me an example of how Google's content offering has changed the competitive landscape? Where do you think Google fits in with the Apple's and Amazons of the Web?
Rosenberg: What I hope we've done, in particularly for consumers who have adopted Android, is demonstrated to them that their experience with their Android device spans many different things that they may want to do with that device--whether it's apps, or Gmail, maps, or reading a book, or watching a movie, or managing their music collection and that's where we think we've really made a lot of progress. We've said this before that increasingly consumers aren't simply buying into a device.

They're buying into the ecosystem that's behind that device, the set of software and services that support that device. Increasingly also the fact that device may be one of several that they have or one of multiple endpoints that they use, whether they're media services or productivity services. One of the things I hope we've achieved is that consumers now recognize that when they join the Android ecosystem that there's a full suite of media services and great content services for them to use and enjoy.