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You're Shakin' My Confidence Daily, YouTube -- and It Hurts

It's Not Media Guy, It's You; You're the Problem

By Published on . 3

YouTube, you're breaking my heart.

I'm not saying that I'm ready to dump you -- not yet, at least -- but I want you to know that, if that time comes, I'm not going to let you off easy with a "It's not you, it's me."
YouTube's Steve Chen and Chad Hurley: Guys, really, you're not cute anymore.
YouTube's Steve Chen and Chad Hurley: Guys, really, you're not cute anymore. Credit: Gabriela Hasbun

Because it's all you. You've been screwing everything up lately. And you've been squandering your lead.

Back in the day -- last year -- it was kind of fun when you were the scrappy upstart. A little David outsmarting the Goliaths by pickpocketing them. But since you got bought by a Goliath (Google) yourself, everything's changed. You have to start acting like a grown-up. It's not cute anymore, what you're doing.

It doesn't make me feel good to say this, but you're making me feel sympathetic toward Big (Old) Media. I never thought I'd say this, but suddenly I feel Big (Old) Media's pain. Last week, for instance, Universal spokesman Peter Lofrumento told The New York Times that "the copyright law doesn't give people" -- by "people" he clearly meant viral-video sites such as YouTube -- "the right to engage in the massive infringement of our content to build a thriving business and then, after the fact, avoid exposure by saying they will prospectively start to filter."

I read that and thought, "Amen, Peter!"

Right before Google came a-courting last fall, I described YouTube in this column as basically functioning as a massive restaurant with a big sign outside that reads "FREE HORS D'OEUVRES, ALL YOU CAN EAT" -- only you don't have your own kitchen; you just steal much of your best food from other restaurants (or, rather, the food falls off of trucks, and your patrons bring it all in, while your waiters look the other way).

That, of course, is not a sustainable business model. And when content providers get pissy about it, you tend to act all innocent and/or wounded, which is just lame.

Like, earlier this month when Viacom demanded that 100,000 chunks of its content -- including YouTube fan favorites, such as clips from "The Daily Show" -- get pulled from your site, your content partnership exec, David Eun, had the lamest response ever: "The biggest feeling we have right now is regret that Viacom may miss out on the chance to interact with the YouTube community."

That's like you saying, "The biggest feeling we have right now is that the YouTube community will no longer be able to enjoy free Viacom egg rolls."

They're not your freaking egg rolls to serve!

You don't even know how to make egg rolls!

It'd be one thing if you had really great decor in your restaurant, or supercool silverware and plates -- some sort of substantial value-add. But basically all you've had going for you all this time is that your restaurant had a nice sign out front, was a bit cleaner than everyone else's, you served really quickly, and, most crucially, you had a huge menu.

Well, for one thing -- duh -- your menu shrinks every time you alienate another important content partner.

The way Viacom tells it, you had plenty of time to negotiate a revenue-sharing deal with it. It was serious, you weren't. You chose to run out the clock.

You can't keep doing this.

You assume that because you're the 800-pound gorilla in the viral-video space, that everybody else has to play by your rules.

But guess what? Turns out it's not that hard to do what you've been doing. You're not the keeper of the keys to the viral-video kingdom that you thought you were. Viacom, for instance, is creating its own embedded video player that will let bloggers promote Viacom content as easily as they've been promoting, um, "your" content. Even small media companies are figuring out how to serve their own video cleanly and quickly. (Case in point: See indie pop-culture magazine Vice's excellent new VBS.tv.)

True, you've still got an automatic advantage because you're part of Google, which dominates search -- and, of course, so many searches for everything, including viral video, still start on Google.

But if, increasingly, you just don't have the goods, it's not gonna matter that your sugar daddy can point to you.

It's not just that everybody's going to want to cut out the middleman; they're going to want to cut out the thief.

Meanwhile, those content providers that for whatever reason don't want to host their own original video have an increasing range of options. Wenner Media's Us Weekly, for instance, has teamed up with Michael Eisner-backed Veoh.

Wow. You're actually making working with former Disney czar Eisner seem like a healthy option! People are actually saying, "Hmmm, I'd rather work with Eisner than YouTube."

Think about that.

Your sloth-like pace at negotiating fair content partnerships is only part of the problem. You've also been dragging your feet when it comes to developing and installing filtering technology that can screen out illegally posted copyrighted material.

What's the hold up? MySpace is doing it -- or at least trying. It's licensed state-of-the-art technology from Audible Magic, a company that can automatically analyze the audio tracks of videos to see if stuff was lifted from unlicensed content.

And Audible Magic isn't the only player. Last week the technology publication Red Herring wrote about Alex Laats, the CEO of a start-up called Podzinger: "Podzinger searches videos for specific pieces of text, finding words and phrases within the audio of the clips. The technology is sufficiently advanced that it can show exactly where a word or phrase occurs in the audio, said Laats. 'We can keep out what companies don't want or shouldn't have.'"

Tellingly, Red Herring added that Laats "said he's tried to convince YouTube to license his technology, though so far no dice."

No rush, right, YouTube?

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E-mail: sdumenco@crain.com
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