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MTV is Poised for a Comeback

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There has been much debate about the merits of Viacom’s recent decision to demand the take-down over 100,000 of its copyrighted video clips on YouTube, which included video assets from MTV, Comedy Central, and other Viacom-owned brands. Well, ‘debate’ is probably not an accurate word to use here, as there seems to be an overwhelming consensus within the blogosphere that Viacom did a very dumb thing.

As only he can, Jeff Jarvis eloquently summarizes the general consensus in his latest Guardian column, echoing the prevailing sentiment that Viacom’s move against YouTube represents yet another ill-fated attempt by the old media guard to regain command & control in the ever-elusive new media world.

If you’ve been a regular reader of my writing, you know that I have long been a loud critic of the old media guard whenever any of them have tried (mostly in vain) to maintain the type of control they had become accustomed to pre-web. So while I agree with the overall premise of Jeff’s thesis, as laid out in his column, I have to say that I very much disagree with the conclusion he reached regarding Viacom. In my opinion, Viacom is doing absolutely the right thing and, in fact, they seem to be correcting themselves on many fronts.

Central to my support of Viacom’s recent moves has much to do with something I had written about them back in September of last year, in a piece titled “Murdoch vs. Redstone… Round Two”. The following is an excerpt:

“The first thing Viacom needs to do is try to control where and how the second front of the war is to be fought. What they should not do is to re-fight the first battle by trying to go head-to-head against MySpace (e.g. with one big deal, like acquiring Facebook or Bebo). Instead, they need to move the war to a new front. And in this regard, they need to engage their competitors in an area where they have a clear comparative advantage. This means Viacom needs to bring out the biggest weapon in its arsenal… the vast video libraries archived within MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, SpikeTV, etc.

“Simply put, Viacom has the richest resource of short-form, high-production-quality videos in the media world… exactly the same kind of “video snacks” that are so popular on online video-sharing sites like YouTube. But given that, the real key to success depends on how Viacom goes about unleashing their video assets onto the Internet… In short, Viacom needs to pursue a strategy that causes death by a thousand cuts.”

Firstly, all mentions of MySpace above should be substituted with YouTube, thus making it relevant to the topic at hand. And secondly, let’s review the *other* announcement that Viacom made on the same day they acted against YouTube, courtesy of this quote from a Reuters story about the news:

You won’t find clips of comedian Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” and MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” on YouTube any more, but Viacom Inc. is laying the groundwork for its videos to be available to hundreds of thousands of other sites… In the next few months, Web users will be able to grab videos from nearly all MTV-owned sites and post them on their own blogs or Web sites, lessening the need to go to YouTube, the top online video service that Google Inc. acquired last year.

To be fair, Jeff does point to this particular move by Viacom in his column. But his analysis of the implications, which he views in terms of a poor alternative to YouTube’s potential promotional value, misses the boat. As MTV’s newly-appointed President of Global Digital Media, Mike Salmi, put it:

“The move is part of a strategy to bring Viacom’s Web sites up to “Web 2.0″ standards,” Salmi said in the Reuters article. “Part of that is allowing people to take our content and embed it and make your own things out of it, whatever they want.”

In my view, the strategic implications of this bold move by Viacom is huge. Opening up their vaults to the masses, for the first time in their history, is a watershed event that should not be underestimated. And its significance should have been highlighted in David Carr’s latest piece about MTV in Monday’s NY Times. If and when MTV makes a comeback, this is the move that will prove the turning point.

15 Responses to “MTV is Poised for a Comeback”

  1. Jason Schmidt

    Hi Robert, I dont understand this move by Viacom, having small clips on Youtube is actually publicizing the content or media for viacom, without viacom geting involved. It is the users who are doing free marketing and advertising for them. While I agree that full length content should be removed, I think adding small clips is just helping the media companies promote their stuff. Btwn, the largest trade bazaar of content is p2p networks, viacom should look into building a market out of p2p networks or stopping them (which is impossible) :-)

    Peace.. Jason.

  2. What is funny to me about YouTube is that it is probably not the best equipped site to host high quality content such as owned by Viacom or NBC etc… yet it is promoted as the inevitable destination for all Video. There are better sites to do that. TechCrunch as well as WSJ did a survey a while ago.

    It seems that this move by Viacom could trigger the unraveling of the current Video strategy of Google – of going after TV networks and locking up their content with promises of ad-revenues ( 500Million to CBS?). It will be interesting to watch Google go after the TV Video/ targeted advertizing market with different strategy .. and different set of deals/acquisitions in coming months…

  3. Jesse Kopelman

    Paul, there will be a year of the IP enabled set-top-box, but it won’t be this year (especially in the US). I can’t wait for it to come, but it is still years away — largely because the broadband network operators have their own walled garden-oriented plans for your TV.

  4. I agree that the likes of Viacom have to work out the new world but they also need to sort out how to work with consumer electronics maunfacturers. Web 2.0 is not the web at all i.e html pages, it’s a delivery mechanism into all sorts of devices of which the PC is one but the winners will probably be next gen set top boxes, IP straight to the living room. The next question is how do the old guard embrace this, just another channel, maybe, but the opportunity to cross promote and create content for different platforms, some marketing led and some pay per view is huge and one that can’t be ignored. You tube et al are having their day but they shouldn’t be the end game for any of the media owners, but, again, another maerketing channel. This will be the year of the IP enabled set top box with content services coming quickly after. Very interesting times.

    BTW – lets not forget the rights issues as well. Most of these vast archives can’t be exploited because the lawyers don’t know who owns the rights!!

  5. Rick Hanley

    Speaking of silly, handled-with-kids-glove, ‘media’ companies:

    Dramatic Interview Quotes from Netflix Management (very funny)

    June 7, 2006
    The New York Times
    What Netflix Could Teach Hollywood
    Reed Hastings, CEO
    “Americans’ tastes are really broad,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want — and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process. [30% of Netflix rentals are those ‘bland blockbusters’]

    February 1, 2007
    The DMW Interview with Ted Sarandos
    Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer
    “At the end of the day, Blockbuster doesn’t have the ability to change the existing merchandising policies that create demand. They’re purely in the demand fulfillment business, and we’re squarely in the demand creation business.”

    February 1, 2007
    The DMW Interview with Ted Sarandos
    Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer
    “What Netflix has done an amazing job of is personalized merchandizing, based on billions of movie ratings and incredibly sophisticated algorithms that put the perfect movies in front of every individual subscriber.”

    February 15, 2007
    World Cinema Web
    Steve Swasey, Director of Corporate Communications
    “We are a bastion of distribution for smaller independent films that wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise.”

    February 15, 2007
    World Cinema Web
    Steve Swasey, Director of Corporate Communications
    The mainstream audience still wants to watch the films on DVD, Swasey contends, “which will be the preferred delivery method for at least 5-7 years.”
    [Who thinks mail-order physical DVD will own rental until 2012 to 2014?]

    High-tech Achiever: Netflix
    At Netflix, the secret sauce is software.
    From: Issue 99 | October 2005 | Page 48 | By: Jena McGregor
    … Warehouse workers–those closest to the customer–get free Netflix subscriptions and DVD players…
    Corporate employees stay happy…with perks like no hard limits on vacation time and free trips to Sundance each January. …

  6. Rick Hanley

    What crap is this?

    The ‘old’ media, the ones who own the content, can get as old as they want, they still are the kings.

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves over the all powerful wizard of oz (google). He wasn’t so powerful after all.

    There’s the real entertainment/content producing media and then there’s the klingons, you know the stuff that hangs from your, well you know. It can be wiped away if it gets too irritating.

    Or is google the second coming of Christ? Please.

  7. hank williams

    You are absolutely right. I get so tired of the crowing of the internet/blogosphere crowd that basically feel that “old media” is dumb for not letting everyone else exploit their content for free.

    Jeff’s argument would suggest that the Internet should be a “free” or “promotional” place, whereas the broadcast world is where you really monetize the content, which is really a backwards way of looking at the future of content on the Internet. If that really is how things play out then I guess anyone planning on actually monetizing video content should hang up their spurs if they don’t own a TV network.

    But back to your point. Trying to prevent the content’s access on the Internet would be dumb. But wanting to be paid is not.

    As Fred Wilson often discusses, they are microchunking, freeing, syndicating, and monetizing. Now perhaps Fred was referring to some currently non-existent way to syndicate in which YouTube could run Viacom’s ads in some automated way, but what Viacom is doing, is, I think, about as close as you can get today. And it seems that they were even willing to fully syndicate the raw content with YouTube, but YouTube has not been willing to track (using filtering) and pay a sufficient fee.

    Bottom line.
    Viacom 1 – Blogosphere 0.

  8. interesting, a good move.

    if MTV can re-assert itself as a primary portal for quality videos/music (detaching oneself from personal musical preferences for a moment) then this will certainly work.

    the sheer volume of poor-quality dross on youtube has reached the stage where one has to question its long-term relevance.

    youtube’s true destiny seems to be nothing more than becoming an optional outlet for “you’ve been framed” types of ‘comedy-accident’ (usually staged) video clips.

    quality videos (including those which are not music based) need niche outlets, so the viewer knows they’re not going to encounter the 90% rubbish scenario one may encounter on youtube, more often than not.

    and the number of times one now encounters “content removed for copyright reasons” compromises its effectiveness/relevance even more now – i believe the rest of the media world is working in concert (subconsciously or not) to ensure youtube never reaches its desired status as #1 video/media portal.

    interesting times.