Is Google a content company now?

I know it’s been a couple of days since this was announced, which in blogosphere terms is a lifetime ago, but something about the announcement of a deal between Google and “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane continues to puzzle me. Actually, a bunch of things about it puzzle me — and not just the fact that (as Valleywag points out) this deal was originally talked about almost a year ago. I guess I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the idea.

Just to recap, the cartoonist and the search engine have teamed up to offer, well… I don’t know what to call them except maybe cartoon “webisodes” — a series of 50 two-minute clips that will be distributed through Google’s AdSense program and will be collectively known as Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. As described (both of the times it has been announced), the clips will be animated and will carry advertising in some form, whether banner or pre-roll/post-roll. MacFarlane has called them “animated versions of the one-frame cartoons you might see in the New Yorker, only edgier” (notice he didn’t say funnier).

I guess my problem — if I have one — is that this deal seems to be neither fish nor fowl. It’s not so much that it blurs the line between TV and animation and the Web, because I’m all in favour of that kind of line-blurring in digital media. It’s more that Google and its advertising program seem like an odd fit with an artist like MacFarlane; even just writing a sentence like “the deal between the search engine and the cartoonist” reminds me of that old saying about the fish and the bicycle. What are these two things doing together?

Are the clips that Seth creates content or advertising? They will be distributed through AdSense, and carry ads, but they aren’t technically advertising (to blur matters even further, Seth will create special versions of the clips for advertisers). In many ways, this is the kind of thing that Yahoo might do, and in fact has done, in the past — creating content or contracting with someone to create content, although without the advertising piece. Does that mean Google is becoming a content company, and if so, is that necessarily a good thing?

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