The End for Google, and perhaps FAANG?

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Could the end be in sight for some of the giant online players? While few doubt the might of the Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google names, some critics are beginning to see the ‘beginning of the end’ for these players. One name not usually associated with the FAANG grouping is Microsoft, a once-upon-a-time giant, now somewhat diminished.

For example, John Malone, the cable and programming investor, says that he sees Google being broken up because of its domination in online search.

Reported by UK newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, which quoted from a transcript of a speech made by Mr Malone to Virgin Media staff in July, he said: “In my opinion, Google will be broken up and will not be allowed to go vertical on services, anything in which they control the search algorithm and figure out ­presenting it to the consumer.”

Google was in July 2017 hit with a $5 billion (€4.3bn) fine by European Union regulators for breaking anti-trust rules. Google was accused of “making payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators” to exclusively bundle the Google search app on handsets.

Malone said that Google’s alleged ability to use its search engine to steer web-traffic away from rivals in neighbouring digital markets would be its undoing. Malone said that [this policy] would ultimately fail.

Last year there were considerable criticisms of Apple (in particular its buying of the ‘Whole Foods’ retail chain, with the USA’s Federal Trade Commission receiving flack for approving the merger. But a paper on the Foundation for Economic Education’s web-site suggested that we should relax and allow the market the deal with Amazon in much the same way that Amazon has itself dealt with rivals. Quoting Harvard professor Clayton Christensen’s comments that he describes as the “innovator’s dilemma” and where it is much easier to innovate outside the confines of a large company.

In other words, yesterday’s innovators will be challenged by newcomers. The Harvard paper argues that Blockbuster was a great name, but then came Netflix (and Amazon Prime) and whatever happened to US bookselling giant Borders, or the UK’s WHSmith?

Of course, even powerful names such as Facebook or Twitter can be brought down by a few missteps (not least unauthorised hacking and misuse of subscriber accounts) and ever-closer examinations of their financial prospects. Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook) and Jack Dorsey (Twitter) told the US Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this week that they had failed to prevent Russian interference in the 2016 elections.  Google’s co-founder Larry Page declined to appear.

Apple seems to have the ability to successfully re-invent itself, and a report from Morgan Stanley suggests that Apple’s video streaming service “will make billions” for the business, and $4 billion by 2025 from 50 million paying subscribers.

Another argument looks at the constituent companies in the DOW 100 market listing of 100 years ago, and of which only 11 have survived. Professor Scott Galloway, from New York’s Stern School of Business, reminds us that just 10 years ago the ‘hot name’ in social media was ‘Myspace’ and in 2006 beat Google as the most visited website in the US. Whatever happened to that? Or AOL? Or Compuserve? Or Friends Reunited? Will Facebook, SnapChat or Instagram still be around 5 years from now? Indeed, the question could be asked of any number of current players in on-line activity.

The current telco and media landscape have seen some great names absorbed, and subsequently disappear. The list is huge: Napster, Palm, Blackberry, boo.com, Compaq, Sega, Wang Labs (a pioneer in Word Processing), Netscape, Nokia. Similarly, dozens of well-funded US broadcast channels have faded away (Noggin, Discovery Health, Style, CNNfn, Current TV and Al Jazeera America, CNN Sports Illustrated, Voom HD).

Perhaps John Malone is correct. Will Google be forced to break itself up, just as the Bell telephone monopoly was broken up in 1982, and which brought about the Baby Bells (Ameritech, Bell Atlantic, Bell South, NYNEX, Pacific Telesis, Southwestern Bell, US West)? Indeed, many of these Baby Bells have gone onto new names (Bell Atlantic became Verizon, Southwestern Bell became AT&T, etc) while others have merged or been acquired.

Arguably, the forced break up of Bell resulted in today’s AT&T and which sees AT&T having grown bigger than ever – and owning most of its previous parts. In other words, don’t wish for Google’s demise. It might just end up bigger than ever.


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