Google receives almost $5 of every $10 spent on online advertising worldwide. Its total income from advertising last year was over $29bn. To put this number in perspective, the total advertising revenues of all US newspapers combined last year was less than $22bn. And the major US television networks (excluding cable and local stations) earned $21.7 billion in advertising.
Using Neilsen estimates, the global advertising market may be somewhere north of $400bn so internet advertising is still a relatively small part of the total market which is still dominated by television. But television is a local business, not a global one. The global networks like CNN, Discovery and MTV are small players in the global advertising market. CNN International's advertising for example accounted for no more than 10% of CNN's income of some $500m in 2009. And Viacom, owner of MTV which they claim as the worlds biggest television network broadcasting in over 160 countries, earned less than $1,5bn in ad revenues in 2008.
Of course advertising is not the only source of revenue for media companies - though it is the only significant source of revenue for Google. News Corp owns 20th Century Fox which makes movies which people buy at the cinema and on DVD. Sony owns a studio too - Columbia - and a music company Sony BMG which sell CDs. But music sales are in decline and for many years the film industry has been largely dependent for its profits on television sales. And looked at globally, the television business is dependent on advertising.
What appears clear is that Google is, by a long way, the biggest advertising platform in the world. And the world, at the end of 2011, is one where getting people to pay directly for the cost of generating media is getting tougher and tougher. Google, of course does not make any content. But the major businesses never made their money by making content. They made their money by aggregating audiences. And Google is now the greatest audience aggregator in human history and the first truly global one.