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YouTube vs. The Media World

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google’s YouTube division is under attack from a coalition of mainstream media companies in the escalating struggle for a share of revenue from the video-sharing site.

Driving the latest flare-up is testimony by a former Google employee that the company earned $809,000 in AdWords revenue from and, now-defunct “bootleg movie download” sites. According to the Journal, Google assigned account executives who advised the sites on what keywords they should be selling, which implies Google had knowledge of the illegal nature of the sites.

As I wrote last week, this is only the beginning of a very dangerous showdown for YouTube. A Sony spokesman told the Journal that “Discussions with Google have been ongoing for a while, and there’s hope it can result in a mutually satisfactory arrangement whereby Google will not give support to pirate sites.” If there isn’t a mutually satisfactory agreement, the path ahead for YouTube is unending lawsuits, while the studios seem to be preparing to launch their own video portal, which would be a disaster, too.

A video portal of and by the studios will be about as successful as crap sandwiches at a regional food festival, because the social video movement depends much more on individual contributions and editing of content than on the content alone. The local flavor, added by individuals who lovingly or hatefully recast media, is essential to the success of this form of media. It is the fact someone sits down and excerpts the significant parts of each episode of Lost, for example, that makes mainstream-derived media more popular on YouTube. Those edited contributions are the filter that allow people to decide whether to watch the whole show.

A studio portal would, by emphasizing the whole programs, put a damper on personal expression, making the place sterile and, well, much like television is already.

The two sides of this conflict need to find ways to build their businesses together in support of the many individual contributors who are actually animating media with their creativity, criticism and, yes, crap of their own. It’s the Big Mix character of sites like YouTube that is critical to this movement, not the content from media companies alone. Neither side can serve the customer without the other, so it’s time to put the threats away and for, particularly, Google to come to terms with media companies. 


March 19, 2007 - Posted by | youtube

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