You [Tube] Can Move Too Fast, As Well

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Mountain View, Calif.— There I sat, in the lobby of Building 45 at the Googleplex on Charleston Road here.

Having just talked with the product manager and group business product manager of Google Video, I was headed off to try and find the rival that has, in the space of nine months, come to be considered the king of “user-created” content on the Web.

So I typed “YouTube Headquarters” into a Google search box on my laptop computer. The first listing — received in 0.22 seconds — was a Web video titled, “YouTube: I Visit YouTube Headquarters.”

The 4-minute, 51-second clip was narrated by a young San Jose fan of the site, which has outpaced Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and all other comers in collecting and spitting out videos created by everyday Americans. Each day, more than 65,000 videos are uploaded to YouTube. Half come from people under 20 years old.

The narrator and guide, Kelly Magovern, had used part of his July 4 weekend to find YouTube’s offices — and to find out whether anyone on the street in San Mateo, Calif., knew they existed.

When he finds 71 E. Third Ave., he’s shocked. There’s no sign. No way to know YouTube is there. Just a glass door, between a pizza place and an Asian restaurant.

PATHETIC PLACE

“Millions and millions of users and this is YouTube headquarters. This is it. That’s pretty pathetic,” he tells viewers.

YouTube’s acceptance outside San Mateo, though, has become another legend of hyper-growth. Founded in February of last year, its first official month of operation was December.

At that time, users each day uploaded 8,000 videos and watched 3 million. Now, eight times as many videos are uploaded and more than 100 million get viewed each day.

Its featured videos last Wednesday included a stop-motion animated video game using everyday objects and a bit about “Teenie Weenie Raw Flesh” that purportedly had nothing to do with Jessica Simpson, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan “or any other talented Pop star.”

In terms of total viewing time, 1 million 5-minute clips a day is not much. Not compared to primetime television, where a single show may be watched by 10 million or even 20 million viewers, for a half-hour or an hour.

But it’s yet another Web service quickly changing the way media is consumed. The last similar phenomenon was the social network, aka MySpace. In little more than three years, it amassed more than 100 million members and, without intending to, managed to topple — directly or indirectly — MTV wunderpapa Tom Freston as CEO of Viacom. That’s a cable network and movie company that pulls in almost $10 billion a year in revenue.

It could even be YouTube turns out to be a flash in the pan. A flashier rival may come along; an existing one may stomp on it.

“Is YouTube worth $2 billion, or, is it worth nothing? I don’t know. It’s a little hard to tell at this point,” said Josh Bernoff, a Forrester Research analyst.

Already, MySpace has trained its eyes on user-created video and says it has pretty much caught up, in volume of videos produced and placed on its site daily.

Google is no slouch at the game either, even if somehow it managed to relinquish the pole position it assumed a year ago, when it launched Google Video and tried specifically to become the main repository and host of user-created visual content on the Web.

SYNDICATING MTV

In fact, one of Google’s most interesting initiatives in the year gone by is the effort announced a few weeks ago to syndicate Viacom video shorts and related advertising to sites all over the Web. Today you can go to babynames.com, for instance, play back an MTV clip and see, along the way, an AT&T ad. The revenue gets shared between Viacom, Google and babynames.com.

The syndication “speaks to the idea that increasingly Net users are interested in finding high-quality video in the sites they come to,’’ said Hunter Walk, product manager for Google Video.

MySpace.com has also become big in Web videos. But MySpace is taken — and Viacom isn’t likely to be able to buy out Google. It was worth $116 billion at the end of trading on the day I was sitting in the lobby of Building 45. YouTube, however, is still available.

So, having previewed where I was heading, courtesy of a video about YouTube on YouTube and directions from Google Maps, I headed over to San Mateo.

I went through the glass door to an empty entryway that featured only an elevator door and some steps with a small handwritten sign urging, “Please Lock the Door When Coming and Going (if security isn’t present).”

Founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim might have been in the room with the dirty blue carpet at the top of the stairs. But YouTube wasn’t taking visitors and has been too swamped to handle the flood of e-mail requests in recent weeks for press interviews (including mine).

But I did find out one piece of news for Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone from Jennifer Nielsen, YouTube’s marketing manager. The company has no interest in selling out.

ON POINT

Which may make life a bit easier for Judy McGrath, Sumner’s point-person at MTV Networks. If Tom Freston moved too passively toward buying MySpace last year, McGrath may have moved too quickly to buy into user-created shorts and shows. She bought iFilm, another collector of Web videos, on October 15, 2005 — before YouTube was even up and formally running.

Why won’t YouTube sell? It’s growing too fast. After nine months in business, it has somewhere between 16 million and 20 million visitors each month, depending on who is counting. iFilm, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, has 2.6 million. It was founded in 1998 as an outlet for short films and movie news.

And YouTube is just starting to become a real business. It’s announced a couple new ways of bringing in advertising revenue — one of which involves ads created, of course, by users — and, pretty soon, will be abandoning its dowdy digs on San Mateo’s main street for office space in San Bruno, near the San Francisco Airport.

That won’t disappoint Kelly Magowan. After having polled pedestrians on the street about YouTube and finding it universally unknown, his closing comment might almost have seemed addressed to CEOs of media conglomerates as well.

“Dude, nobody knows what YouTube is. What’s wrong with people?” he asked into his camera, after getting the brushoff from a fellow putting coins into a parking meter. “They’re missing out. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

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