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Did YouTube Jilt Viacom for Google?

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Here’s today’s wacky theory: Maybe the reason Viacom (s VIA) has gone after YouTube so litigiously is because YouTube (s GOOG) is “the one that got away” — and anyone who’s ever had an unrequited crush knows how much it hurts to see something special slip through one’s fingers.

In today’s blog post by YouTube Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine, Levine takes issue with some of Viacom’s accusations towards YouTube,, given Viacom made repeated attempts to acquire YouTube before the Google deal happened:

Viacom’s brief misconstrues isolated lines from a handful of emails produced in this case to try to show that YouTube was founded with bad intentions, and asks the judge to believe that, even though Viacom tried repeatedly to buy YouTube, YouTube is like Napster or Grokster.

According to CNET, Viacom was in fact serious enough about acquiring YouTube that it extended an offer prior to Oct. 9, 2006, when the deal was announced. What they proposed was that the two companies buy it together as a partnership, and thus “Viacom [would legitimize] the content on the site by providing content and developing a business model,” former Viacom exec Adam Cahan told CNET writer Greg Sandoval.

Before Google bought YouTube, Viacom was looking at the site, and even cautiously saying so publicly: On Oct. 4, 2006, Viacom Founder Sumner Redstone told Charlie Rose that YouTube was a potential acquisition as opposed to Facebook. “It’s a very good company,” he’s quoted as saying (video embedded below).

Five days after that interview, though, Google officially announced it would acquire YouTube for $1.65 billion. And five months after that, Viacom took its first legal action against YouTube, demanding that more than 100,000 clips be removed.

It’s interesting to consider what might have happened to YouTube had the Viacom acquisition occurred. You probably wouldn’t hear talk like “YouTube has become a metaphor for the democratizing power of the Internet and information” (per today’s blog post by YouTube Chief Counsel Zahavah Levine) if the site hadn’t remained independent from big media.

Instead, YouTube might have resembled MySpace (s NWS) following its acquisition by News Corp, working overtime to promote its parent company’s media properties. YouTube’s allegation that Viacom used YouTube as a promotional device after the Google acquisition only supports that theory.

Perhaps as an apology, Google offered Viacom $590 million for a licencing deal (per Peter Kafka on Twitter). But that doesn’t change the fact that like a cheerleader with too many options, YouTube decided to go with someone else to the prom. And so in the Viacom filing made public today, Viacom attacked YouTube’s principles and ethics with statements like:

YouTube’s founders single-mindedly focused on geometrically increasing the number of YouTube users to maximize its commercial value. They recognized they could achieve that goal only if they cast a blind eye to and did not block the huge number of unauthorized copyrighted works posted on the site. The founders’ deliberate decision to build a business based on piracy enabled them to sell their start-up business to Google after 16 months for $1.8 billion.

You have to admit, that kind of sounds like something a bitter ex would write.

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2 Responses to “Did YouTube Jilt Viacom for Google?”

  1. Hi,

    It’s not uncommon at all for this situation, of companies that are threats or damaging to one company being acquired by those they threaten (google has its own examples), or in fact suing later on if a company doesn’t acquiess.

    We are all better served by what’s happened, not least as it lead to both hulu and Viacom’s strategy of a 1000-doors, rather than every video being just available on Youtube.

    Kind regards,

    Shakir Razak