James Ashton: Cash-rich Google gets out its chequebook

Outlook James Murdoch was particularly irate when the BBC acquired the Lonely Planet travel guides a few years back.

Why should the Beeb be allowed to shovel its state-sponsored wealth into a for-profit venture that had precious little to do with its public service remit?

He had a point. BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the Beeb, has in the past had quite an elastic definition of where it should be operating and where it shouldn't.

It has been hugely successful in taking British formats such as Strictly Come Dancing around the world – projects that tip cash back into the BBC. But it has quietly hung onto Lonely Planet while selling off the Radio Times and various other bits and pieces its boss, John Smith, decided were non-core.

Now the BBC has a new competitor in the form of Google, which has just bought travel guide Frommer's. Publishers take note. There was a time when Google insisted it had no interest in creating content. A rescue takeover for Yellow Pages, whose local search business it was stealing, was poo-pooed.

Instead, Google's algorithms were there purely to organise what someone else had invested to create. But a backlash from those creators – such as when Google tried to capitalise on hotel and restaurant reviews from websites such as TripAdvisor – has forced the search giant to get out its chequebook.

Frommer's joins Zagat, the restaurant guide, in the Google fold. What more could follow? Google's cash pile increases as the valuation of many traditional media assets heads in the other direction.

I wonder what Mr Murdoch, ensconced in New York at News Corporation and not quite so vocal these days, thinks of it all?

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