Google Acquires YouTube – A doubtful move

Google has just acquired YouTube for $1.6 billion US, one of the largest acquisitions in Google’s history. It is creating the same exciting feeling as we used to experience in the dot.com era in the ’90’s. However, the move is not really well understood.

If we take a look at the background of YouTube, it lacks the very successful elements of previous successful dot.com companies. It does not have proprietary technology nor does it possess customer lock-in capability – a very important element for a market leader to keep on dominating market.

In study of successful dot.com companies like eBay, we have to go back to a special network utility phenomenon called Network Externality Effect. Its basic argument is a network’s utility increases exponentially with the number of users in the network, making it more valuable in due course. For explanation of this phenomenon, refer to another post here:Â Metcalfe’s Law and Network Effect.

Theoretically if you run a similar auction network service like what eBay started to do more than 10 years ago, it’s unlikely you can knock down eBay because it has already had so many buyers and sellers entrenched in its network. Its network utility is so high that you have no way to attract new users to your service, no matter how hard you try. When a new user (irrespective of whether he/she is a buyer or seller) is looking for an online auction service to join, their most likely choice will be eBay.

The network effect keeps boosting the increasing network dominance power of eBay, making it virtually invincible. Sometimes we call this phenomenon “The Law of Increasing Returns”.

But we don’t see this in YouTube. It has no customer lock-in capability. Theoretically, let’s say that if you have sufficient capital to start with a server farm facility as big as YouTube, you can start offering services to public like they do, allowing users to upload their videos and share them with others. A new user can select your service or YouTube. YouTube has no immediate advantage over your new service to this new prospect.

YouTube model actually works on the viral marketing effect – the marketing effect that takes place to boost its exposure by people’s word-of-mouth. For a further discussion on viral marketing, refer to this post – Viral Marketing: A Powerful But Free Marketing Tactic. The new service can definitely take this viral marketing approach. It doesn’t matter if it’s a late comer.

Let’s go back to the discussion of eBay. The only way you can knock down eBay is to start a new service that rests on a new technology that eBay does not have. And that technology must truly benefit the new and current users of eBay in a way that can pull them away to try your service. This is the only way you have chance to succeed.

To put it another way, the way to win and keep your market position is to possess new technology, if you do not have the network externality effect that helps like companies like eBay.

We cannot see this in YouTube either. The video broadcast technology is neither new nor exclusive to YouTube. Although we know that they claim to have proprietary technology to identify copyright protected material, but that is not the main theme of this deal.

Google spent $1.8 billion US to acquire this company. The same amount of money (perhaps much less) can definitely be used to build broadcast facilities that resemble the power of YouTube. This is addition to the fact that Google already started its own video service years ago.

The only advantage we can see for this deal is its immediate access to its vast number of broadcasting page views, and that it can put to use for its famous and profitable Adwords’ service customers.

Even though it represents only a tiny portion of its vast market capitalization of $131 Billion US (as of stock closing at Oct 10, 2006), is it really worth the $1.6 billion US expenditure?

Related Topics: Google , YouTube, Google Acquires YouTube, YouTube is acquired by Google, Google Acquired YouTube, Network Externality Effect, Law of Increasing Returns, Network Effect, Market Capitalization of Google, Market Capitalisation of Google, Viral Marketing, The Law of Increasing Returns, network utility, customer lock-in capability, Google Adwords