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Google's Karim Temsamani: "We strongly believe in a four-screen world"

Storyboard recently caught up with Karim Temsamani, Head - APAC Operations, Google. He spoke about why Asia is not digitizing fast enough, why mobile advertising will yield better ROI than desktop advertising and Google's take on wearable tech.

Excerpts from the interview:

Storyboard: You mentioned that Asia is not digitizing fast enough. Why do you think that is and how can this be rectified?

Karim: As I see it, most people of my generation are used to old technology. When I began working, outgrowing the Telex, moving on to fax machine and then entered the desktop world. I grew up as a digital desktop person, while the next generation is being born into a world where mobile is becoming increasingly important, what with phone connections and smart phones being available to everyone. What also must be considered is the content that is being developed on the internet.

We have half of the world's population in this region. It's really clear that in Asia, we have the ability to provide to billions of people the first connectivity that they'll ever have in their lives. We can provide them with information, education and change their lives. And now it has come up on us and all the other companies in the ecosystem to facilitate that access to information. We need to make sure they can enrich their lives by having fast access to the internet for this information.

For starters, I'd like to see people moving online at a much faster rate. But there are hurdles in this region, because internet connections in some countries aren't fast enough. Or maybe purchasing devices is too expensive or that local content isn't necessarily online yet.

Another important factor is the language. We build content mostly for the English-speaking population. But people in the Asia-Pacific region speak a host of other languages. It's really important that we work with publishers and governments to ensure that all relevant information is available in local languages. And obviously it's important for businesses as well. Many of the queries searched online are for local businesses, but so many of them large and small have no online presence. When that happens, the experience for me as a user is much lessened, because all the content that makes the web so rich and important isn't there. Hence, I'd love an acceleration across the board and provide opportunities for everyone to be online.

Storyboard: How much time doesGoogle dedicate in getting people online? And what are the hindrances like at the government level in the bevy of countries you look after?

Karim: We spend a lot of time on this as priority. As a management group, we have a number of initiatives that we are launching across the region to be able to do just this. In fact, we have launched 'Digitise India', an initiative to get more women online. Women are very important in a developing nation economically, but not many women are online in India! We are making a very large push with many other companies in the industry to get more women online and provide content that will be very relevant to them.

As far as regulations are concerned, each country has its own sets of guidelines. One of the major factors when we work with governments is ensuring we have an environment that is sensible to freedom of information. People need to have the ability to upload content that they care about and access any content that they want to. It's very essential that the regulations support the building of the internet rather than hinder it.

Storyboard: We've seen that a lot of brands are following consumers into the mobile space. In terms of cost, we see that mobile advertising is quite low compared to desktop advertising. Do you see this change soon? If yes, then by when?

Karim:The adoption of mobile is increasing at a furious pace, especially smart phones. If you look at the numbers in some APAC countries , we have more views on a video on YouTube mobile in Japan and Korea than on a desktop, with India steadily catching up. We see an increasingly fast move to smart phones across the regions, with people wanting to consume all types of content on them. I'm delighted to see many investments from telecom players in India in terms of providing better network coverage and broadband. That's what is going to drive usage, ultimately. And with that, will follow advertising.

The reality is that we shouldn't focus on the cost of mobile versus the cost of desktop, but on the returns that advertisers would get by reaching the user. I think mobile is potentially going to be more beneficial to businesses than the desktop. It's not just about the CPC that you may be paying on a mobile devices versus a desktop, but we need to look at the value it brings to the advertiser. At the end of the day, it is about a beneficial transaction to the advertiser.

Storyboard: Google is also rethinking the way it looks at mobile advertising. You're offering desktop and mobile as a combined suite to advertisers. What else is the company doing to put more weight behind advertisers in terms of tools developed and offered?

Karim:We believe very strongly in a four-screen world. We live in a world where consumers have access to their TV screens, tablets, desktops and mobile devices, simultaneously, which they switch between all day. We try and ensure that the campaigns advertisers develop are consistent across all devices. They are able to place greater emphasis and have cost control over one versus another. But, they must have the ability to reach the users across consistently. Having said that, it's really important for us to keep investing in mobile-specific formats, while enabling advertisers to reach users.

The mobile device has different form-factors that are very specific to it. It has location-sensors, it can hear and talk to you, it can figure out directions, etc. All of the formats distinct to mobile are using these factors in helping advertisers target and provide more useful ads to users.

Storyboard: Essentially, you're moving to advertising that is screen-agnostic...

Karim:Advertising is screen-agnostic when you ensure that you can reach your users across all devices. But then again, it doesn't necessarily mean that all the messages are going to necessarily be screen-agnostic. You must use the specificity of mobile devices to give user a better experience on a mobile device. I think over time, mobile will provide clients with better because of the abilities to better target people.

Storyboard: So clearly the 'Mobile First' approach is not dead...

Karim:Mobile First is very important at Google. It started in 2010 when our CEO Eric Schmidt said that we needed to become a Mobile First company. We are in a world where most new connections to the internet are going to occur from a mobile phone perspective. Mobile is incredibly critical to the future of Google.

Storyboard: Recently, I was on Tech Crunch, and I read something about an Android watch. How much will wearable tech change the landscape, especially in a Mobile-First scenario? Also, is Google looking at hardware as well?

Karim:I think you may be referring to the recently-announced Android SDK for wearable devices. We are very excited about it. There's a range of things you can do from a mobile device perspective, that can be facilitated and you can surface the information on other types of devices. For instance, Google Glass lets you ask queries, access emails and everything that is relevant to you, through glass. Similarly through a wearable device, you can read stay in touch with people close to you and access information that is linked to your mobile device. Instead of having to enter a password on your mobile, you are connected directly through your wearable device. And you don't have to constantly look down at your mobile device, too!

Storyboard: Is this being viewed by you as a significant opportunity?

Karim:It is a significant opportunity for us. If you consider the predictions and statistics, we are essentially saying that in the next 8 years, the number of connected devices will grow eightfold. We know then that by next year we are going to have 10 billion mobile devices and smart phones in circulation. With that logic, we will have 80 billion connected devices in eight years. Obviously, many of them are going to be wearable devices and the ones that are in our home. Connectivity is going to be very important across all the devices that you have access to on a daily basis. It will only improve your life.

Storyboard: Will selling ad space across these devices will be a challenge, considering you also have to make sure the experience isn't lost out?

Karim:At Google, we worry about how we can give the user the best experience possible, after which we figure how best we can monetize that experience. Thirdly, we make sure that the experience is beneficial to the user in the first place. For instance, True View ads on YouTube are selected by users based on whether they want to watch them or not. It is not an intrusive experience, but an incremental one.

Clients have a great response rate on these ads as well. The experiences we have created have been very differentiated and game-changing. So in the same way, as we learn more about how people will use wearable devices, we will be able to think of what ad formats will be relevant to them.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2014 19:57:21 IST