Google Music: What Were Ticketmaster And Facebook Thinking?

Now that the dust is settling on the newly launched Google Music (if you don’t yet have it in your normal Google search results, you can use it here) that integrates LaLa and iLike/MySpace streaming music, all I can think of is this: What were Facebook and Ticketmaster thinking when they passed up the opportunity to acquire iLike?

MySpace is the big lottery winner here. They bought iLike for $20 million in August. What they got: a talented (literally) team that is starting to fill the executive ranks at MySpace, the biggest music application on Facebook, and, it turns out, a deal with Google that is now sending massive traffic flow directly to MySpace Music.

Our understanding from sources is that MySpace made an offer to iLike without knowing about the Google deal. Supposedly, since iLike was under NDA, all they knew was that iLike had a big partnership opportunity with some big company, nothing more. In hindsight the iLike deal looks smart even without Google. Add that in and it looks absolutely brilliant. I’m no fan of MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta, but I’ll give the man credit here.

Giving Facebook The Benefit Of The Doubt

Facebook decided not to aggresively pursue iLike. They seem to have firmly moved away from any desire to deal with content directly, so this looks less like a mistake and more like a strategic decision.

But one thing is clear. Facebook utterly failed to execute on their music strategy from last year, even while trying to work via a partner application to avoid direct contact with content. Meanwhile, Google stepped in and quickly brought streaming music directly to users, without paying anything at all for it.

iLike CEO and now MySpace exec Ali Partovi, speaking at the launch event last night, didn’t hold any punches against Facebook. He gave huge credit to Google for pulling off a win-win-win-win (labels, google, users, MySpace/LaLa) in the difficult online music space. And he noted that “others have tried or are still trying and have failed miserably.” He was quite clearly referring to Facebook.

The truth is that we don’t know if Facebook flailed on a huge opportunity to get into the Google search stream, or if they just decided they don’t want the hassle of dealing with music directly. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. And they certainly had no idea of the Google deal back when they were trying to buy iLike anyway.

Ticketmaster Flubs It

None of Facebook’s excuses (didn’t know about the Google deal, strategically not what they want, etc.) apply to Ticketmaster. The company was a big shareholder in iLike, had a board seat, and certainly new every detail of the Google deal. They could easily have acquired iLike, probably for not much more cash than the $13.3 million they already had invested. But instead they let the company go to MySpace, knowing full well that they were enabling a huge potential competitor.

If Ticketmaster had acquired iLike all that Google music search traffic would be under their control. Click throughs to the iLike site could be monetized through event ticket sales. It would probably be a matter of months, not years, before they got their investment back in additional ticket sales.

And what’s worse is that MySpace now controls all that traffic. MySpace actually has a much more complete worldwide database of concert events than even Ticketmaster has, and they already flow through a lot of traffic to ticket sales at Ticketmaster and competitors. Now that database is combined with iLike’s impressive concert discovery and alert product. When you plug Google search traffic into all of that, its got to be scary for Ticketmaster:

“MySpace has the world’s largest database of live events, and iLike has already built some of the world’s best concert-discovery features available online,” Courtney Holt, president of MySpace Music, wrote in a blog post. “We’re delighted to have implemented the first structured integration of concert data into Google search, and this is only the beginning of our efforts to innovate in the live event space.”

We frankly can’t see any reason at all for Ticketmaster to let iLike go to a potential competitor, particularly with this Google deal locked up. Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff certainly knew what was happening. So why did he make such a huge misstep? Possibly because he’s in the middle of a divestiture of topline assets as part of a merger with Live Nation. Azoff is rumored to be looking for a huge personal payout as part of that deal, and may even be spinning himself off along with assets.

In other words, maybe Azoff couldn’t care less about the future of Ticketmaster.