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Whose Tube is You Tube?

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Between cleaning out my inbox, posting on the blog, and reporting for the magazine, it is no surprise that I missed out watching the India-Pakistan cricket series almost entirely. For those who don’t know its like Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees, except bigger. Worried, that I missed on the games, I asked Wasim, the wonderful host at Punjab Kebab House in Tandoor-loin district of San Francisco, if he had any tapes.

His response – why don’t you watch the highlights on the Internet. He pointed me to You Tube. Quite amazing, because I found properly tagged videos of the copyright broadcasts, perfectly packaged for expat viewing. First reaction to Wasim’s recommendation: wow, You Tube is as big as Napster. In fact, much bigger, thanks to broadband penetration. Second reaction… eewww! It is like Napster.

It reminded me of my post from last month – Google, You Tube and Dark Side of Online Video. I had raised concerns about this then, and only this past week, I saw that NBC was issuing a cease and desist to You Tube over a SNL clip. You Tube (and Google) can hide behind DMCA to some extent, but in the end as one commenter on my previous post had said – this is no different than Napster. Listings (and hosting) of other people’s content can and will always get you in trouble.

Stewart Butterfield in response to my previous post had pointed out that SNL clip was one of the biggest hits on You Tube, and perhaps “it’s not in NBC’s interest to protest at this point: it probably helps drive interest in SNL, YouTube’s content is not really being monetized now, and NBC isn’t offering any alternative. But when either of those last two factors change, things could get harder.”

Well, he proved to be a sooth sayer, and things did get harder. Now that SNL clips are being sold on iTunes for $1.99, NBC stands to lose money, which means a C&D. Unlike Napster, here is a direct correlation in lost sales. (India-Pakistan series in total would have cost me about $150.) NBC’s actions sparked off a healthy discussion, though makes me wonder why we had to wait for New York Times to write about this before causing a commotion. Nevermind… I believe that the growing popularity of You Tube (and other online video sites… about 95 in total as per Mary Hodder of Dabble) has less to do with amateur content, and more to do with copyright infringing content. After all if I had not wanted to see those cricket games, there was little chance of me visiting and spending so much time on You Tube. I wonder how many people actually visit You Tube to watch broadcast content online.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why online video companies like Brightcove (on the front page of Wall Street Journal) have a much better future than You Tube. Despite the glowing profile, I do wonder how much of Brightcove’s future depends on content companies’ desire to cannibalize their current businesses. Amateur video content is far from being must-see TV.

39 Responses to “Whose Tube is You Tube?”

  1. I like and dislike YouTube. Sure, it’s great to have this window to view videos through. I’ve had some very successful searches for video clips so far.
    Dislikes: As a film worker for the past 26 years, I know how much work it takes for filmmakers to get their films shot, edited and into film fests, cinemas and then to the home video market. YouTube can help promote a film, but not if the person posting it does not include website information or links. Perhaps filmmakers will be able to turn YouTube in their favor, by posting movie trailers for their work on the site. It’s certainly cheaper than buying ad space in Variety…
    I recall my first evening looking at Video Google last year. I searched “Charlie Rose” and found many video clips of his show. A dream menu of choices, click on “interview with Neil Young”, or “interview with Raply Nader” and then watch.
    What I liked was seeing that Google was giving people a sample of the interview, then it would freeze-frame and offer the entire interview for $1.99 or less. With all the bells & whistles of computers, can’t YouTube encode the videos so that people can only see a small portion of the video, then order the internet download, or better yet, the actual DVD from the producer/distributor?
    I think YouTube is having a negative effect on cash-flow for some very hard-working, deserving filmmakers. It’s an insult to real filmmakers to think that all video clips on YouTube are just someone’s goofy home videos shot with a dime store camcorder or cel phone cam.
    Call me a whiner, but some of the people posting copyrighted videos are shoplifters. And please don’t give me that rap about Robinhood. Stealing content from NBC and stealing from indie filmmakers are two different things. Thanks, Hunter

  2. Hi, im writing an essay for school about you-tube, its popularity and the law suits that have followed. Can someone point me in the right direction of where i can find more information on “How is publishing of video possible on the web?” -ie, how it all works, thanks that would be great, oh btw, really insightfull blog, very helpfull.

  3. If You Tube is a copyright disaster waiting to happen, as Om Malik suggests, then what is the nature of that disaster exactly? …when you factor in the odd terms and conditions of uploading content to You Tube. Uploading content to their site grants You Tube…

    “a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its successor’s) business in any media formats and through any media channels”

    Very much like MySpace, which singer Billy Bragg withdrew all of his content from until they changed their similar T’s and C’s to be less all-embracing.

    For me the copyright disaster waiting to happen is not just that copyrighted material is uploaded to You Tube in infrigement, but more importantly that anyone making shorts and wanting to get them aired via the site is signing them over to the company for free and recinding any rights to them.

  4. Lalit Sarna

    Unpredictability of user generated content scares the brand advertisers, address that fear and voila!! THE MAGIC SAUCE

    User generated content + Personal contextual reputation Index+ community aided classification + profile based targeting = A cheap vehicle for brand marketers to pick and chose what user generated content is suitable for there Ad campaign. CHACHING!!!!!

    Staggering statistics of the reach of user promoted media can not be discounted; equally one can not discount the unpredictability of the quality of user generated content. If there was a solution that allowed brand marketers to easily qualify user generated content, it would make for a whole new trend in brand marketing fueled by viral distribution and behavioral targeting. Think about it .. How much money to brand advertisers pump into traditional media where they are having a monologue with client base, now think of the value of a positive dialogue.

  5. Om, I am very upset that you mentioned the restaurant. And you shall also be upset when you have to wait in line for your food next time you go there. Remember Yogi Bera: “Nobody goes there anymore, it is too crowded.” You wouldn’t want that to happen, I suggest you strike it out and also delete this comment.

  6. If anyone figures out what the biz model of YouTube is beyond monetizing traffic resulting from sharing copy written video content, please let me know. ;)

    While I think micro-content in video format, copyright or not, are going to stay around… no matter if YouTube or its siblings get shut down. The more interesting thing I think will be a content discovery and delivery service.

    Just as the ORIGNAL Napster, and iTunes helped me discovery new content — cheaply and effecitvely (and in iTunes, a real way of monetizing it). The really compelling thing to a user will be having a system that can help me identify what I’d be interested in (i.e think Tivo), and deliver it to me (i.e. fireant, ipod, etc.)

  7. TV content is a delivery mechanism for advertising, which pays for a lot of the TV show production costs. IMO SNL is pretty lame these days – why watch it if the odd 30 second moment of hilarity will be on the net 24 hours later?

    It is the advertisers who will freak I believe based on that logic..

    Come on you Engerland etc..
    (if you’re a Brit you’ll get that)

  8. YouTube is quite a bit different from Napster. Napster provided complete, near perfect versions of things that are available for purchase. YouTube provides incomplete, lousy versions of things that are not available for purchase. Almost all of the stuff available on Napster fit that description. Much, if not a majority, of the stuff on YouTube does not fit that description.

    It will be interesting to see if any of the other biggies follow NBC. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were actually Apple or some other party that pressured NBC into action considering how much value NBC got out of the viral spread of Lazy Sunday.

  9. “For those who don’t know its like Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees, except bigger.”

    ‘Bigger’ is understated here, unless Boston was once part of New York and for the last 50 years they have been at war off-and-on with each other

  10. Om,

    Whenever soemthing like Napster – and now YouTube – achieves enournous popularity, it’s really because there’s a huge need that is being unfulfilled. In this case, the need is that people want to watch microchunked TV (TV in small chunks, whenever and wherever you want it, tailored to your tastes) and the media companies just don’t provide it. There a huge opportunity to do to TV what iTunes did to music – create a more legitimate service that meets that need for a low price point (or make it ad-supported and pay the media creators a cut). I’ve developed these ideas in a longer post:

  11. i went to youtube’s homepage and didn’t find any entertainment.

    as more companies enter this space, and because entry barriers are low, the entire space will be fragmented.

    youtube should pray to be bought quickly or lose lots of money on traffic.

    BTW, if you are looking for video ENTERTAINMENT- go to the best unknown web 2.0 startup in the web-video space.

  12. Indie content is not far from a must see. In many cases personal content is if it is not relevant. NO company has yet capitalized on that opportunity of being a showcase for quality independent content. My company YouAreTV is working on that as we speak.

  13. YouTube has the “cool factor” like MySpace does with the young audience. It will be easy for someone like Jason to replicate the technology and infrastructure necessary to compete with YouTube. But, it will NOT be easy to generate the same buzz and excitement with that crowd that YouTube already has.

    If YouTube can stay out of court, screen content appropriately, build its user base, and attract advertisers, they will have a very nice business. YouTube is the video equivalent of Napster…except it is legal. As many of you know, I was formerly vice president of product development at Napster…before the courts shut us down :-(

    See my take on the story at

  14. In countries like Italy where I live, where there is no HDTV offering at all, internet downloads have a clear opportunity to leapfrog terrestrial and satellite TV. And the opportunity is even clearer if you think to how late and pricey BlueRay and HD-DVD will come into the picture. Of course media companies will still have to deal with Bittorrent which has already leapfrogged TV on HD, at least for an English speaker who can watch all favourite Tv shows 9 months ahead in 720p. But then, it still very much about copyright infringment.

    The truth is, weblogs are interesting reads and picture are flickricious, but studios and major leagues still make the best Tv to watch

  15. I think the content companies have to seriously take a look at what they are not doing right. Having said that the issue now is sales lost VS. video let loose on the web.

    I think $1.99 is just too much for Video downloads. Especially Small screen Videos. I would like to get better quality higher resolution videos for that price.

  16. The online video community is responding to the demand that the broadcasters have not been quick enough to satisfy, and YouTube / Google Video are simply reflecting that demand.

    No doubt, as more popular/viral videos appear, they will attract attention from the industry legal guns looking to shut them down.

    Instead of the film/TV industries’ sue-first-think-later approach, they need to realise that they have thousands of media producers working free of charge to edit, classify and repackage their content. Instead of criminalising this activity they need to get smart, and learn how to capitalise on it.

  17. As popular as SNL’s YouTube bit became, I don’t know a single person who actually watched more SNL because of it. In fact, the overriding view seemed to be “if they do any more really good skits, I’ll be able to see them on YouTube.” I know the cliche about there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but I have to think the fact that your work is easily available on demand without advertising is considered bad publicity (atleast for a major producer).