News Corp's challenge to Google

Douglas MacMillan
27 Nov 2009

In a bid to loosen Google's dominance over online news, News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch is talking with Microsoft about making his company's content available exclusively through the software giant's Bing search engine. But any deal to keep stories from The Wall Street Journal and other papers out of Google search results could do more harm than good for Murdoch and Microsoft.

Murdoch is considering a pairing with Bing because he believes Google benefits at the expense of his own media outlets. He argues readers often scan story excerpts on Google News without clicking through to newspapers' Web sites, robbing them of ad revenue. But acting alone, News Corp. may not have much impact on Google's share of the search market, 65.4% in October. Murdoch would likely need substantial backing from other newspapers. "It would take a great proportion, most all of the industry, to do something together," says Jim Moroney, executive vice-president of A.H. Belo, publisher of The Dallas Morning News, which is also considering giving a single search engine access to its news. Google has said any Web site can opt out of search results by adding a line of software code to its pages.

But regulators might look askance at publications acting in concert to dump Google. "This would raise significant antitrust issues because competitors would be agreeing to limit their competitive conduct in an important respect—delivery of their service to the public," says Sam Bayard, assistant director of Harvard's Citizen Media Law Project. Representatives of News Corp. and Microsoft refused to comment on the prospect of a deal.

As part of the proposed plan described by insiders, Microsoft would pay a fee in exchange for making Bing the only search engine able to deliver content from the Journal and possibly other News Corp. media. Regulators may consider those payments an attempt to trammel competition in the lucrative online search market, says David Balto, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a former antitrust official with the Federal Trade Commission. "That kind of exclusionary practice will certainly catch the attention of the antitrust cops," Balto says. "It's depriving consumers of choice." He says the moves would be reminiscent of now-outlawed agreements that made Microsoft's Windows the sole operating system available on whole fleets of computers in the 1990s.

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