Latest Digital Platform for Storytelling: Google Earth

Marries Pictures, Stories and Video to Virtual Online Globe

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NEW YORK ( -- While there's still no clear evidence that Google will be monetizing its Google Earth product, the company is busily inking partnerships with media brands such as Discovery Networks and National Geographic to pump up its interactive-map offering into a full-on multimedia educational tool.
National Geographic linked its pictures, video and stories with Google Earth. When users click on a yellow-bordered icon, they can link to National Geographic web pages.
National Geographic linked its pictures, video and stories with Google Earth. When users click on a yellow-bordered icon, they can link to National Geographic web pages.

Exploring Earth
The downloadable application, which launched in June, lets users zoom in and fly over 3-D images of buildings and landscapes and tilt and rotate the imagery. In December, Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's VP-product management, told Ad Age he saw the service as having video-on-demand applications and was ready to welcome partnerships with cable networks. Now those appear to have bloomed.

When a Google Earth zooms in to check out a particular destination, say the Grand Canyon, a Discovery icon will pop up. Clicking on that icon sends a user to a Discovery-hosted video player that with a video about the landmark.

Early on, Google Earth approached National Geographic about creating a layer within Google Earth that would allow users to view National Geographic photos, videos and stories when zooming into a location. If an area has a yellow border, it indicates National Geographic content can be found there.

Virtual world travel
For instance, in Africa, the society sponsored photographer Mike Fay's 2004 flyover of the continent. Each entry of Mr. Fay's accounts and aerial photos of what occurred in that place during the flyover is marked with a red airplane on Google Earth, allowing viewers to follow his journey. The society has plans to even more extensively use Google Earth as a way to keep readers and users abreast of ongoing expeditions through linked blogs, photos, audio reports and video. Mr. Fay, currently in Chad following a herd of Saharan elephants, plans to blog about his trip and upload photos and video to Google Earth.

The Discovery partnership, which went live last night with 40 videos about national parks, will add another 200 links to videos about destinations around the world within six weeks. The arrangement is a purely promotional one for Google Earth. But Discovery is selling pre-roll video advertising on the videos and may, in fact, add transactional opportunities, such as selling branded downloadable audio tours to a particular geographic area or nearby landmark. So, for example, a Google Earth user zooming in on London's Trafalgar Square may be able to watch a video about the area as well as download an audio guide to the nearby National Gallery. There is no revenue-sharing agreement and the partnership is non-exclusive.

Discovery is in talks with other mapping portals similar to Google Earth and Google is free to add other video-content creators to Earth.

The partnership complements several of Discovery's upcoming programs, said Don Bher, senior exec VP-strategy and development, such as the fourth-quarter airing of "Discovery Atlas" programs, profiling China, Italy, Brazil and India. "This is about the ability to develop a fluid continuum of conversation [with viewers]," he said.

What is the purpose?
For Google, it begs the question, Just what is the business purpose behind Google Earth? There are many suppositions—from Google's mandate to disseminate information to the masses to the more sinister-sounding goal of encouraging users to download Google's various applications to their desktops so it can better monitor behavior and improve the contextual matching of its advertising.

When asked specifically about the company's plan for Google Earth during a February interview, Tim Armstrong, Google's VP-advertising, said: "Google Earth specifically has opened itself out and not from an advertiser standpoint, but from a user-mash-up point of view. ... Google Earth is something that has no specific plan right now for monetization and may never have that. But it's something that the ad community should be interested in because it's a wonderful opportunity."
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