Yesterday, I was interviewed by Amy Scott on NPR's Day-to-Day show and the subject of the interview was a Wall St. Journal story that reported on how, in true the enemy of my enemy is my friend fashion, a bunch of television broadcasters are considering a joint Web venture that would compete against YouTube. Said the WSJ:
Four major media companies, including News Corp.'s Fox, Viacom Inc., CBS Corp. and General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal, are in talks about creating a video Web site to compete with Google Inc.'s YouTube, according to people close to the situation.
The companies, owners of most of the major TV networks, envision a jointly owned site that would be the primary Web source for video content from their networks, allowing them to cash in on fast-growing Web video advertising. They also have discussed building a Web video player that could play video clips from across the Web.
The story goes on to talk about how Disney (parent to ABC) is sitting this one out. To me, the idea of these companies getting together in hopes of building yet another YouTube is laughable. Of course, I can understand why they might want to do this instead of taking the money that Google (owner of YouTube) is apparently offering them (eg: Google has apparently offered Fox $140 million) and running. Media companies make their money from advertisers and these media companies are extremely senstive to seeing their copyrighted content being distributed through unsanctioned channels like YouTube. The big problem is that when viewers see Grey's Anatomy (and only the best parts of it) on YouTube, those viewers are not watching the officially sanctioned channel of distribution and are therefore getting to bypass the advertising. So, before YouTube completely cannibalized their businesses, the TV networks started to plug that little content leak.
The question is what to do next. If the TV networks each work out their own deal with an outfit like YouTube or one of its competitors (eg: Guba), that still doesn't satisfy the concerns of existing advertisers who want their ads to appear opposite every broadcast of whatever show is in question (regardless of whether it's broadcast across the Net or the airwaves). Meanwhile, with Google knocking on their door, the TV networks could simply look for a deal that gives their advertisers the additional exposure on the Internet. But in a case like that, the money would probably need to flow in the other direction. Google is all about advertising as well and it's unlikely that Google is going to want to pay $140 million to a TV network for rights to its content unless it can also decide what advertising displays opposite that content.
Keep in mind that we're not even including one other wrinkle for the TV networks in this rock-and-a-hard-place syndrome: that some of the content being posted to YouTube is actually better than what's showing up on TV.
So, is the answer to band together and form their own YouTube over which the TV networks can promise additional exposure to their own advertisers? I think not and said as much on NPR. For starters, according to the WSJ, CBS, NBC and Viacom have already rejected the idea of hosting that content on News Corp's MySpace. Already, competing interests are interfering with the potential mutual benefits of a joint venture and my suspicion is that it wouldn't be long before those interests caused a joint venture to melt down altogether. That is of course, provided such a JV even has a chance.
Quite frankly, I don't envision any of these traditional broadcasters having much of chance in the Internet medium unless they partner or acquire. Sure, News Corp. has the appearance of being Internet-savvy with MySpace.com in its fold. But everyone knows that you can't change a leopard's spots. These companies would never be able to come up with something like that on their own, much less execute. What makes YouTube so special is how anti-establishment it is in everything it does. And these other leopards? Well, they're the establishment leopards. It'd be like putting a fresh water fish in salt water (picture the gills heaving). To them, I say (in an echoey voice): Rememmmmmber Go.com. That was just one network (ABC) trying its hand at getting the Internet right and part of the problem were the competing interests inside the company (for example, across divisions). And now we're expected to believe that if they all get together (each with their own divisions that still probably have competing interests among themselves), that it's going to work this time? Guffaw.
My advice to them? Partner with someone who gets the gestalt of YouTube. It doesn't have to be YouTube itself. But someone who get that whole social sharing user producing yada yada thing.
Disclosure: CNET Networks, the parent company to ZDNet.com, has a service (a part of Webshots) that some consider to be a competitor to YouTube. So, you're free to take my opinion here with a grain of salt since it would be in CNET's best interests not to have another YouTube out there. But I don't work in the Webshots group and I would have this opinion of the situation whether my employer ran a competing service or not.