More thoughts on Google and YouTube

I woke up this morning with Google on my mind (a hit tune, if I ever heard one), and I want to talk directly to broadcasters for a bit. If that’s not you, just bear with me.

I wrote yesterday that broadcasting took another blow in the Google/YouTube deal. Let me explain a little more.

In any community, Media 1.0 distribution is with the form of the medium. Newspapers pay people to take the paper to your house (or, increasingly, spam your mailbox). The airwaves for radio or television in your town carry signals via spectrum licensed by the FCC. As long as you have spectrum — and consumers have a way of receiving that spectrum — you have a business. Scarcity is what gives you financial success, and that’s what’s turned upside-down in the Media 2.0 world.

As broadcasters, our decisions about new media have been largely brand extension strategies, and while this is a good thing, it ultimately plays into the hands of the Googles, Yahoos and MSNs of the world. We’re trapped, because we don’t realize that scarcity doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

New media companies understand this, however, and the new scarcity is created by aggregating as many “pieces” of media as possible in one place. Why does this work? Because there are far more people creating content than there is time for people to consume it. Therefore, trusted, smart filters (or smart aggregators, as I call them) become desirable. Who does the filtering? Sometimes, it’s a person or people, but increasingly we consumers do it ourselves — by voting with our time and our eyeballs. Who doesn’t automatically go to the “most viewed” section of YouTube to see what everybody’s watching?

One of the fundamentals of postmodernism is that people trust each other more than hierarchical and self-serving institutions.

Our new media strategy to make our content available everywhere (unbundling) is smart, because we want our content to be where the eyeballs are. In so doing, however, we need to understand that we’re feeding the beast that will ultimately destroy us. This is only acceptable if we move quickly to create our own local smart aggregators.

The longer we insist that our viewers must come to our websites to access our content, the sooner will come our demise. Our brand means scarcity over-the-air, but it’s just another pixel on the page of Media 2.0.

I also think it’s foolish to dismiss the Google/YouTube marriage as “moronic” from a legal perspective. Mark Cuban is obsessed with the copyright issues involved when people upload material that he doesn’t believe is theirs to upload. I respect Mr. Cuban and think he’s providing a valuable service by making his views known, but I also think that many aggregator sites function as common carriers under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and that safe harbor rules apply.

There certainly is enough grey area to warrant a complete overhaul of copyright law (it’s not “property”), which I believe is long overdue and will benefit both consumers and content creators. There’s a lot of money at stake here, and I think people are willing to pay for art. However, I don’t think consumers are wrong in rejecting the demands of the record and film industries who have — through their lust for gold — taken the art out of artistry and replaced it with formulas and hype.


  1. “I respect Mr. Cuban and think he’s providing a valuable service by making his views known, but I also think that many aggregator sites function as common carriers under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and that safe harbor rules apply.”

    Actually, I can’t imagine DCMA does offer any shelter against illegally using copyrighted material for profit. This is why it’s OK to have your friends over to watch NFL games, but not OK to charge admission.

    By placing Google ads (or whatever) next to illegally uploaded copyrighted material, YouTube (and like minded sites) are effectively using that material for commerce. For background, see the Harry Fox Agency lawsuit (which they won, handily) against And all that site was doing was reprinting song lyrics. HFA made the “banner ads constitute commerce” argument, and had to shut down temporarily.

    Mark Cuban is right to be concerned about this. In the case of, it was a portal to existing online media sites, lest anyone think this is a case of “do as I say, not as I did and made $2+ billion.”

  2. Ethan,

    Your point, as always, is well-taken.

    It’s a very fine line to walk when trying to apply the rules of a modernist culture to anything remotely resembling postmodernism. I do not support illegal uploading, but I believe we have to be very careful in painting all of this activity as illegal.

    And I agree that all bets are off when money changes hands, and where a postmodern entity wishes to engage in modernist commerce, it must play by those rules, not its own.

    I think the point is that copyright law badly needs rewriting, because our ability to share that NFL game with our friends includes choices we never had before.

    I think all media needs to accept that the more they focus on enforcing existing copyright, the less likely they are to be a serious player downstream. Mark Cuban’s investment in the Mavericks needs the protection of copyright law, and I don’t think anybody seriously argues with that.

    But here’s the deal: the horse is so far out of the barn that people are going to continue to share videos with their friends no matter what. I applaud those who are working with YouTube to prevent the lawsuits that came from the Napster fiasco, because they’re making money with downloads that they never would have made otherwise. Apple and iTunes changed the paradigm, despite the lawsuits by the music industry, and I’d like to think we could come up with something equitable as a culture without rewarding the institutions that are destroying the arts.


  3. The copyrighted video is the straw man of this debate. It is simply NOT what YouTube is about. People keep seeing YT as “Video Napster.” No way. Look at the “All-Time Most Viewed” videos on YT. Not a traditional show among them. Does “South Park” get uploaded? Yep. Does it drive YT? No way. I would be stunned if the copyright material made up more than 5% of the views.

    The power of YT is in the distribution and aggregation of our content, not theirs.

  4. Having worked with both networks and local affiliates, I agree with much of what you say.

    FWIW, here’s my take on the deal:

    Five Things The Networks Haven’t Learned From The Success Of YouTube

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