What goes online

For anyone who remembers how coldly the music industry treated Napster, a peculiar environment pervades today where any entity can be attacked as enabling copyright infringement by some, while being embraced as a marketing partner by others.

For anyone who remembers how coldly the music industry treated Napster, a peculiar environment pervades today where any entity can be attacked as enabling copyright infringement by some, while being embraced as a marketing partner by others.

Of course, I'm referring to YouTube, a video network Web site that allows users to upload any and all videos from their lives and, with the right set up, copyright-protected clips from television shows, music videos, and films.

YouTube, like Wikipedia, believes in self-policing. True, the upload screen includes a stern, bolded "Do not upload copyrighted material" warning, but there's no advanced algorithm that detects whether a video comes from a home camcorder or from an expensive NBC program. Users are asked to flag videos that violate copyright, but with companies partnering with YouTube to provide content, determining ownership is not that easy.

Additionally, users can upload graphic content, but, like with copyright, the onus is on policing users to alert YouTube to any improper content.

No one is denying YouTube's prowess as host of consumer-generated content, and certainly a lion's share of the content comes from consumers. But the company has begun reaching out to marketers for symbiotic relationships. And marketers are reaching back to work with YouTube despite the uncertainty of content.

For example, Record label Matador launched a YouTube contest, asking fans of the band Pretty Girls Make Graves to submit a video for a new single, while E! is working with the Web site to help cull consumer-generated videos for its Talk Soup program. Comcast cable channel G4 has also launched ads on YouTube for its Star Trek 2.0 show, which bows on April 10, on the Web site. In about two days, the ad already had over 61,000 views. A trailer for The Simpsons movie, which someone uploaded onto YouTube, had over 231,000 views in two days.

There's no question that YouTube can be a great resource for savvy marketers. For instance, a video of a Nike soccer ad received three million views. For Nike, this is pure value-add, as they would have to pay a large sum just for the opportunity to reach that audience on broadcast.

In another instance, a YouTube featuring the climatic scene from Napoleon Dynamite has attracted 3.7 million views. It's not facile to think that some of those 3.7 million Napoleon Dynamite viewers were getting their first taste of the movie, of which the "iconic" scene might lead them to purchase the DVD.

But, one wonders why Fox Searchlight doesn't use that logic to host the scene on their Web site? They have other scenes there, but they can only be viewed on that Web site. Why not provide coding to anyone who joins the Napoleon Dynamite fan club to enable them to play the clip on his or her blog or chatroom?

Despite the partnerships with the G4s and the Matadors of the world, things will not be completely copasetic between content producers and YouTube.

Traditional content providers like Comedy Central and CBS have renewed their dedication to putting video files online. The New York Times relaunched its Web site to include more multimedia clips. While content providers have smartly wised up to the import of proving columns online, they still have a bit of reticence in allowing content to play directly in blogs.

That reticence have helped pave a way for YouTube because, where the Web site really shines is how easy it is for bloggers to embed a video into a blog post, such as demonstrated by Gawker.

While YouTube easily enables marketers to post ads and other promotional clips from movies, campaigns, and other large videos, content residing anywhere but the content producer's Web site threatens advertising revenues. Next day buzz about the previous night's incident is now a serious revenue generator, as people will be damned if they wait around until the owner of the content gets around to putting clips on a DVD.

Content producers, bloggers, and third-parties like YouTube will eventually need to figure out a way to ensure bloggers get the content they want, and the content providers get compensated. Micropayments? Revenue sharing? Ads? Lawsuits? We'll see how that pans out.

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