TV's YouTube Rival

What Everyone Is Talking About

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NEW YORK ( -- A range of parties have told us that the major media companies have talked seriously about launching a jointly backed video portal that could rival the Google-owned YouTube, although its maddeningly unclear exactly who's involved and what stage talks are currently at.

An executive close to the situation said Viacom was involved in the plan. "The notion that Viacom is out [of the group] nothing could be further from the truth," the executive said. "Viacom is very much part of it."

Another executive with knowledge of Viacom's position said talks had been very active ahead of the Google acquisition of YouTube, though nothing had been discussed in recent weeks. Viacom had no comment.

A third executive said NBC Universal has spearheaded the talks through David Zaslav, the outgoing president of cable and domestic TV and new media. Mr. Zaslav is joining Discovery as CEO in January. Mr. Zaslav did not return calls by the time of this posting. A fourth executive said News Corp. had taken a leading role, though a company rep had no knowledge of any such talks.

ABC is said to have declined to become involved and a Disney spokesman said he hadn't heard of the talks and wouldn't comment on it.

The networks are notoriously bad at cooperation, as shown by their lack of a united front on the issue of being paid for viewers watching shows in playback mode. (Fox and CBS split from ABC, which had acted as front man on the issue.) So the idea that they would actually be able to work together to get a YouTube rival up and running seems, well, optimistic.

The only way to build such a portal would be if all the networks promote it on the air. The problem, then, is that they cannibalize any promotion of their own websites, on which the networks have had some success streaming shows. The idea would be for the consortium to own a video-sharing site, not license someone else's video technology. There are -- reportedly -- executives for and against the project in most of the major media companies. Some are concerned about NBC Universal essentially running such a project, that it would require a big investment upfront and involve too much costly effort.

News of the talks was reported on blog Tech Crunch late last week, with the site suggesting the media companies might acquire a third-party website such as Metacafe as the basis of the site. Metacafe said it had no comment on such talks.

One point that continues to come across when talking to media executives: None of them could have done what YouTube has done because they would have been more constrained by copyrights than the video-sharing site was in its fledgling days. When it comes to YouTube, networks are reaping promotional rewards but none have made real revenue yet and there are major questions about when and how working with youTube becomes a real business for networks. And others have suggested the threat of establishing a rival is really just a way to squeeze Google to pay up for copyright violations.
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