Outgoing Warner Music Group chairman Edgar Bronfman, Jr. called Google Music an "oxymoron" that's run by a company conflicted about how to value other parties' information. Bronfman spoke Tuesday at the Wall Street Journal's AllThingsD's D: Dive Into Media conference.
If you've ever seen a band on the final night of a tour, you've noticed they play their hearts out and leave everything on the stage. It appears the same can be said for outgoing chairmen of major music companies speaking at closely followed technology conferences. Bronfman was surprisingly frank with his thoughts on Universal's acquisition of EMI, calling it a "dangerous" combination that would create a "super-major."
Bronfman was equally harsh on Google. "Google itself has to decide whether or not it wants to have a content platform, how it wants to have that content platform and if it wants to be competitive with other companies that do have content platforms," he told AllThingsD's Peter Kafka.
Google's approach to content differs from that of Apple, he said. "Apple, from day one, believed in music, believed in content, believed in making deals with record companies to make that music available to consumers."
But Bronfman sees Google as a company with conflicting feelings about working with content owners. "The value of (content) should be in the organization of the content and the information, not in the information itself - that was Google's view for a very long time," he said. "And I think there are still parts of Google that feel that that's correct and want to pursue that strategy. There are other parts of Google that feel differently."
Warner is the only major music group that has not licensed its music to Google for its Google Music download store. The other three majors and numerous independents were on board with Google Music when it launched in November. Bronfman explained Warner's holdout by saying every deal "comes down to economics" and involves factors such as "piracy and pricing." He did not elaborate on what, if any, piracy concerns have impacted negotiations, although the larger music industry is known to want a more pro-active effort by search engines to eliminate links to infringing content.
Although he helmed Warner during a tumultuous time in the history of the music business, Bronfman was upbeat about the industry's ability to evolve and meet consumer demands. "If there is one lesson that we learned it's that technology will enable consumers to get what they want. There's no point to suggest that's not gonna happen. And in the case of music, because it is a kind of content you can slice into songs as opposed to a two-hour movie or something, that's a huge benefit for consumers. And we as an industry need to find a way to capitalize on that benefit better than run from it."
Bronfman said he may return to music but is being kept busy by non-music endeavors. He is general partner at New York-based investment firm Accretive LLC and is chairman of clean energy company Global Thermostat.