Maybe Rupert Murdoch was serious about wanting to go without Google.
Murdoch's News Corp. has initiated discussions with Microsoft over a plan to have the media company's content essentially delisted from the world's largest search engine, according to a report Sunday in the Financial Times that cited a person familiar with the situation. Microsoft, which owns rival search engine Bing, has also reportedly approached media giants about having their content removed from Google search results as well.
Microsoft representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The two companies have been linked discussing a Web-search partnership in the past. During Microsoft's failed bid for Yahoo in 2008, the tech giant was reportedly in "serious" talks with News Corp. to make a joint bid for Yahoo.
Murdoch, the chairman of a newspaper, TV, and Internet empire that includes The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, 20th Century Fox, Fox News, and Hulu, warned earlier this month that his sites may soon disappear from the search engine's listings. Murdoch accused search giants of "stealing" his company's content during an interview with Sky News Australia. When he was asked why he just doesn't pull his Web sites from Google's search results, he said: "I think we will. But that's when we start charging."
Murdoch and other News Corp. execs have said that they intend to charge readers and viewers for access to the company's content, forsaking the ad revenue model.
For several months, executives at some of the nation's most influential newspapers and periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press, have been blaming Google and similar Web services for at least some of their deepening financial troubles.
Google sells ads tied to the news blurbs it "scrapes" from news sites. It links back to the Web sites from which it acquired the content but doesn't share ad revenue with them.
"Publishers put their content on the Web because they want it to be found," Google said in a statement earlier this month. "Very few choose not to include their material in Google News and Web search. But if they tell us not to include it, we don't."
Critics of the media companies' bashing of Google point out that if media companies were serious about not being indexed by search engines, they could accomplish the feat on their own by inserting a single line of code into their URLs. For example, if the Wall Street Journal added a line such as online.wsj.com/robots.txt, content from the site would be rendered invisible to Google.
Microsoft is playing a dangerous game if this report is true. It is one thing to win audiences by being a better search engine. It is an entirely different situation if you are incentivizing content producers to hide content from competitors.
This could backfire on Microsoft if they are not careful.