John Paczkowski

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LIVE: Google Press Luncheon


In advance of its shareholder meeting today, Google is holding a press event at its Mountain View, Calif., campus with CEO Eric Schmidt presiding. Also on hand: Dave Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development; Susan Wojcicki, vice president for product management, Kent Walker, general counsel, and Marissa Mayer, vice president, search products and user experience.

Hot topics of the day: Google’s and Apple’s interlocking boards, YouTube and the company’s thoughts on the econalypse, AOL and netbooks.

This liveblog paraphrases most questions and answers. It is not, in other words, a verbatim transcript of the event.

A theme of the meeting is the just-opened inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission into Apple’s and Google’s interlocking boards. Schmidt gets right into the topic with a joke: Looks like we’re at a legal deposition. He adds that he doesn’t believe Google (GOOG) views Apple (AAPL) as a primary competitor. If there are issues that are competitive during a board meeting, he will recuse himself, he says, just as he has regarding the iPhone.

Would Schmidt consider resigning from the Apple board?

Schmidt: “Hasn’t crossed my mind.” Ken Walker adds: “The law is clear that there is safe harbor for companies that don’t have overlapping revenues, and we’re comfortable with that position.”

Regarding the recession, are there any signs that we’re at the bottom?

Schmidt: “We don’t yet see a change.”

As Google gets bigger and faces more antitrust scrutiny, does this change how the company approaches partnerships?

Schmidt: Information is incredibly important, and we should expect governments around the world to pay attention to what we do and hold us to the principles we’ve articulated. Internally we tell our employees to pay attention, there are consequences to mistakes they make.

In the last few years, we’ve worked harder to anticipate the concerns of people affected by the power of the Internet. In my biased judgment, we’re getting better at anticipating those concerns.

We are more careful about when and how we do things that are raising the concerns of any party, but that care doesn’t stop us from doing those things.

Is there anything you haven’t done because of that?

Schmidt: I can’t think of a specific.

What do you think of the long-time monetization potential of social networks?

Susan Wojcicki: “We’ve been learning a lot about monetizing social inventory. And we believe there are ways to monetizie it over time, but those ways are different from search.”

Why did Google decide to sell its stake in AOL?

Schmidt: “We love AOL….We also like money… and look, we sent our best guy over there to run it,” he says referring to Tim Armstrong who recently left Google for AOL.

When will YouTube be profitable?

Schmidt: YouTube will eventually be a successful product and business. We don’t know how long that will take. But YouTube is a huge traffic phenomenon. (Wojicki jumps in to note that that traffic is attracting a lot of advertiser interest, so there is monetization going on. She adds that Google is adding new ad formats to the site, prerolls and click-to-buy ads on music videos.)

How does Google continue innovating given the cost-cutting measures it recently implemented?

Schmidt Innovation is a cultural value at Google, so this hasn’t really been an issue. Cutbacks were more efficiency-related, a move to stay lean but nimble in the midst of a recession.

What’s your take on the balance between Android being an open platform and the trade-offs the company needs to make with handset makers?

Schmidt: “On the one hand, you benefit by having free access; on the other hand there is some sacrifice of stability. We are doing our best to achieve stability without exercising too much control.”

What about China?

Dave Drummond: It’s an “ongoing challenge” to operate there. YouTube is blocked. There is a government preference for local business that makes things very difficult. That said, “we think we’re doing well there.”

Schmidt: “We will continue to do business in China….We would like YouTube unblocked.”

How do you respond to critics who argue that Google is the new Microsoft (MSFT)?

Schmidt: “They obviously don’t remember the old Microsoft.”

In recent public forums you’ve been asked about acquisitions and you’ve said the price isn’t right right now. Has there been any change in that opinion?

Schmidt: No change. There’s simply just not a lot of activity out there now.

What are your thoughts on netbooks?

Schmidt: “The netbook phenomenon looks very real. It looks like it will be a significant element of growth in the PC industry over the next few years.” Schmidt further notes that Google is obviously interested in the market given its business. “Watch the space,” he concludes.