Bit Rate

YouTube Gets YouTubed

7/16/2007 2:29 AM

Copy first, ask questions later: Looks like YouTube is about to get a taste of its own medicine.

Let me explain. Veoh Networks, a would-be YouTube competitor, has come to the realization that user-generated video is an awesomely bad business to be in. Evidently out there’s not much money to be made selling ads against dudes on skateboards. Who could have guessed?

Others are also figuring out that user-gen video is a nonstarter. Sony Pictures just killed Grouper.com with the launch today of Crackle.com, which is supposed to yield more watchable videos by cultivating fame-seeking wannabes in a studio-style model.

Plan B for Veoh — whose backers include Michael Eisner and Time Warner — will be in aggregation, pulling video from elsewhere on the Internet, according to The New York Times. We are told that Veoh’s big innovation will be allowing you to use a remote control with Web video. (No, I did not make that up.)

Now, as part of the VeohTV repositioning, the startup plans to distribute "Web DVR" software that can store streaming video locally on a user’s hard drive.

And guess who’s a little bent out of shape about this idea? Yep, YouTube.

YouTube complains to the NYT that Veoh’s Web DVR violates its terms of service and — more to the point — circumvents YouTube’s ads. A YouTube spokesman ominously adds that the company is "watching Veoh carefully."

Veoh pleads innocence. It points out it’s just making it easier for users to do what’s already technically possible (i.e., download YouTube videos). While Veoh CEO Dmitry Shapiro does not seem to have sought permission from NBC, CBS, YouTube or any of the other content providers that he would be, uh, borrowing from, he claims that he wants to strike revenue-sharing deals.

In other words, copy first–negotiate later.

This bargaining strategy is an exactly replica of YouTube’s. The site ramped up to online-video dominance, and eventual acquisition by the Google borg, by letting users upload anything and everything they could get their digital paws on. With a stockpile of premium content lifted from the likes of Viacom, it then went to the content owners to retroactively ink licensing deals.

Viacom didn’t really like doing business this way and, you know, sued the Googlers – asking for a rather ridiculous $1 billion in damages.

Google pretended to be shocked and outraged by Viacom’s refusal to play ball. With risible self-righteousness, Google asserted that Viacom’s suit "threatens the way hundreds of millions of people legitimately exchange information, news, entertainment and political and artistic expression" on the Internet.

But the shoe is on the other foot for YouTube, now that somebody else may be poaching its content. With the veiled threat against Veoh, it’s sounding more like Viacom, a company Google CEO Eric Schmidt derided as "built on lawsuits" last week in a late-night bull session with journalists.

The irony, of course, will be complete when Google finally feels compelled to sue somebody for stealing its content. At which point artistic expression on the Net will surely suffer from Google’s heavy-handed attempt to limit access to videos of people burping the alphabet. An outrage!

March