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At a Paris press conference, YouTube unveiled localized versions for Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Holland, Poland, Spain and the U…

At a Paris press conference, YouTube unveiled localized versions for Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Holland, Poland, Spain and the UK (Germany is missing). Initially, the sites get translated homepages, search functions and interfaces. Future stages, however, will involve narrowing ratings and comments, as well as the main video, channel, categories and community sections, down to a country-specific level.

Hand-picked featured videos on the new homepages are tailored to each region (Poland gets a DJ tutorial, UK gets Westcountry cheese-rolling), while the promotion is occupied by geriatric1927 giving a welcome to YouTube UK (same on every site, but they’re probably employing geo-tracking to serve this up to me). Co-founder and CEO Chad Hurley said more country roll-outs are to come in the next few months.

It’s the challenge faced by any growing web property. On the one hand, YouTube risks splintering the solid, single user base that has made it so popular. On the other, localization may help to crush upstart video sharing sites who aim to capitalize on an English-centric internet by launching competing services in their native tongue. France, in particular, will be an interesting battleground, with native Dailymotion commanding a strong local following (40 percent of its traffic). There is also the question of whether this will open Google to copyright challenges in other jurisdictions (the site is facing a copyright suit from England’s Premier League, not in the UK but in the US, where it is trying to have it granted class action status).

YouTube used the press opp to spotlight a range of recently-inked media partnerships; it may now be more palatable for broadcasters to sign up with YouTube on a national, rather than international basis. Co-founder Steve Chen: “We want to create features unique to certain countries, so if mobile phones are particularly popular we would introduce more mobile features” (Guardian). Meanwhile, comScore pushed out data on video habits showing more UK net users than watch online video than any others – but the French spend more time doing it.

Updated: AP: ” The expansion didn’t become viable until online search leader Google bought YouTube for $1.76 billion late last year. Besides giving YouTube more computing power, Google also supplied its new subsidiary with the expertise it needed to diversify. The international expansion is being overseen by Sakina Arsiwala, who previously worked on Google’s search engines outside the United States. Arsiwala eventually hopes to engineer additional YouTube channels in dozens of other countries.”

Hurley said more than half of YouTube’s audience comes from outside the US, out of a total 200 million video streams a day. He said they had signed more than 150 content partnerships in Europe since March and re-iterated YouTube’s policy of not sanctioning copyright theft but working with content creators to leverage new opportunities. Most reports say the founders avoided giving detailed answers to copyright questions, however. Hurley: “At the end of the day, we want to comply with local laws” (The Times).

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