Google ponders making AI search a premium option

Ad-free search experience might not be on the cards

Google is reportedly considering tweaks to its search engine, including making some AI features subscription-only - an ad-free search experience is seemingly not on the cards.

The Financial Times has reported that Google is debating internally whether to shift some AI-powered search features to premium subscriptions, which a spokesperson did not deny when The Register asked.

After extolling the virtues of Google's Search engine and highlighting the company's work through AI experiments in Search, the spokesperson told us: "As we've done many times before, we'll continue to build new premium capabilities and services to enhance our subscription offerings across Google."

"We don't have anything to announce right now."

Google is stuck between a rock and a hard place regarding AI. While adding generative AI capabilities to Bing has done little to move the market share needle for Microsoft, there is a real risk that using generative AI in search queries could change how Google's business model works.

The company launched Search Generative Experience (SGE) last year, and we understand that Google has had good feedback from customers using the technology. Alongside the AI-generated insights, ads are also slotted into the results. However, the change from the traditional results list could lead to a shift in how users interact with those ads and a shift in Google's revenues.

SGE has yet to make much of an impact on Google's main search engine business. Even without considering any potential impact on the company's ad revenues, rolling it out to more users could also prove costly due to AI's resource–hungry nature. This makes it a prime candidate to be placed behind a paywall.

The company already has a Google One AI Premium plan, which adds its Gemini chatbot tech to Gmail, Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Meet. Adding a premium version of Search to that list is not out of the realm of possibility, and it would also be a first for the company.

The spokesperson said: "We're not working on or considering an ad-free search experience."

However, the company also said that new premium capabilities and subscription offerings were most definitely on the cards.

"With our generative AI experiments in Search, we've already served billions of queries, and we're seeing positive Search query growth in all of our major markets. We're continuing to rapidly improve the product to serve new user needs." ®

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