Viacom’s YouTube Conundrum

    by Mark Glaser
    February 16, 2007

    i-cefd0e9adcb0c891a079e127c58e1eb4-Colbert YouTube.jpg
    The heavyweights of the media world are lining up in opposition to YouTube, and supporting Viacom’s recent removal of all its clips from the video-sharing service. That removal followed a back-and-forth last fall when Viacom initially asked for clips to be removed, and then went into negotiations with YouTube. Those negotiations turned chilly, and now comes the freeze-out for video clips from MTV and Comedy Central shows such as “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show.”

    Here’s a sampling of the media mogul sniping:

    “It’s smart for Viacom, who said, ‘Let me be really clear — you’re not gonna take stuff that I made, then massage it and control it for other people.’” — InterActiveCorp CEO Barry Diller


    “YouTube needs to prove that it will implement its filtering technology across its online platform [to remove copyrighted material]. It’s proven it can do it when it wants to. They have the capability. The question is whether they have the will.” — NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker

    “The fact of the matter is, without copyright protection, there is no entertainment business. And so we instructed YouTube to remove 100,000 pieces of video from their site. Why? Because they were using it without paying for it. I don’t believe in that. If you want to use us, pay us. Or make a deal with us that is commensurate with the value of our product. Our content has taken years and years to develop, with a lot of hard work. People who want to use it are going to pay us, or good-bye.” — Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone

    What’s only slightly weird is that NBC has a co-marketing deal with YouTube, and Viacom’s cousin CBS has an even more wide-ranging deal with YouTube that it has touted in the past as being hugely successful to driving TV ratings. The media companies are in serious conflict — with themselves — over YouTube. While the marketing side of each company salivates at the prospects of going viral on YouTube, the legal and business sides shudder at the video views going to Google/YouTube and not to their own sites. And even with this latest takedown, there’s still the open possibility that Viacom and YouTube will make a deal some time in the future.


    So let’s take the Viacom example and try to weigh out the positive and negative of making a deal with YouTube, the 900-pound gorilla of online video:

    Why Viacom’s YouTube Take-Down Makes Sense

    > Viacom is beefing up their own video offerings, and allowing people to embed the video player code to show clips on their own sites or blogs.

    > Viacom cannot allow YouTube and Google to dominate online video completely and dictate the terms of business engagement.

    > Viacom has had growing digital revenues, and it doesn’t want to lose a portion of that income to YouTube/Google.

    > Viacom wants to control how people use its intellectual property online, and rein in piracy.

    Why Viacom’s YouTube Take-Down Is Nonsense

    > Viacom is losing the free promotion it received from YouTube clips, and is losing the viewers who can’t see its shows overseas or because they don’t have cable TV.

    > Viacom is going against the open nature of the web, where peer-to-peer sharing and viral video rule.

    > Viacom is losing a place in the leading video repository online, where millions could view its videos and give valuable feedback on what’s popular and what’s not.

    > Viacom is indirectly causing some YouTube users to have their videos wrongly removed — a cause which the Electronic Frontier Foundation is taking up.

    Maybe all this doesn’t matter much to many online video fanatics, who are going online to watch video (and upload their own homemade videos) precisely because they want to get away from TV. Many people have pointed out that the freshness of online video is that it’s a new short-form entertainment that beats long-form TV.

    What do you think? Do you think Viacom made the right or wrong move? Do you think they’ll eventually change their mind and put their videos back on YouTube? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Related MediaShift posts:

    Stephen Colbert: Don’t Love and Leave YouTube

    Fake Anchor Colbert Gives Best Take on YouTube Takedowns

    YouTube Explains the Mystery of Home Page Picks

    Tagged: copyright law entertainment viacom videos youtube
    • I cannot believe viacom has taken so long before they start complaining about youtube videos. I own satelite television with MTV and VH1 and I watch the videos of VH1 or MTV on youtube, however I would do exactly the same thing on their channels.

    • Mark

      Bad move for Viacom!, many clips I have seen on youtube have sparked my interest into watching the shows on TV. Its free advertising for Viacom! Viacom, like many other money hungery giant companies, think they needs to suck money out of everything they can. They are blind to the most important factor of all, what the comsumer (me) is thinking. There’s no way I am going to stop watching TV because I can see clips of random stuff on youtube, I WILL however make a point to check out a episode of a TV show if I saw a funny clip of it on youtube! But hey, what do I know, I’m just a stupid consumer right? let them hire some hi-dollar market analyst to determine the obvious.

    • Tabz

      Web 2.0 is a thing of the present and companies that can’t see that are going to lose the highground. We should be allowed to see your content in whatever form we want. We should be able to put videos together of clips from shows… with music from bands.. to spread the viral love of our shows.

      Things like fan made music videos, clips from great shows, and youtube finds have helped me introduce things I love to people who don’t know them. Once they’re hooked – they’ll tune in and watch.. and buy and all that jazz.

      Companies need to realize that sharing is caring. As long as someone is not taking your work, claiming it as their own and charging people to see it.. I don’t see what the loss is. Just because a video is on youtube doesn’t mean I won’t go buy the DVD set when it comes out.

    • But is YT going against the open nature of the web? After all, they’re enabling sharing. You can embed a CC video on your site right now. That’s pretty open.

      The question now isn’t sharing vs. not sharing, it’s whether you need a super aggregator like YouTube to share your content? Right now, probably more, but later — who knows? I could see YT’s power as an aggregator slipping as more media companies produce more online video and make it embeddable. I think eventually, it will be hard to find video online that isn’t in Flash and can’t be shared as easily as YT video is now. YT taught us all how to share better, and share we will.

    • As a blogger, it doesn’t matter where videos come from. As a user, neither. Viacom is requesting YouTube to take down their videos, but a the same time they will allow users to embed them in blogs. I think is right because sharing is expanding.

    • Evan K

      It seems to me that big media is catching on in the IPTV space much faster than the music labels did (or still are) in the music business. They are being pretty aggressive at protecting their copyrights, but at least they are putting out sensible alternatives at the same time. You can’t blame them for wanting control over the content they paid to create.

      YouTube is amazing, but Google’s stubbornness on the filtering issue is very reminiscent of the old Napster. That strategy isn’t going to work and the industry is calling them on it. Does copyright law need to change? Probably, but don’t hold your breath. In the meantime, for better or worse, the content owners hold most of the cards.

    • D.W.

      Viacom is doing the right thing and has every right to protect their content. New video distribution tools for the web are introduced every day while current companies such as Brightcove make more and more advances by the week allowing content to be placed on the web. Sooner or later Viacom and the other large media companies will distribute their own content the best way they see fit directly, and all roads (i.e. advertising revenue, media exposure, etc.) will lead back to Viacom (or whatever company for that matter). There will be no need for YouTube by large media companies.

    • I posted this comment on Chris Thilk’s blog (because he linked to you), but thought you might want to read it as well:

      I totally do not agree with Viacom’s move – they’re fighting what is becoming a strongly ingrained Internet usage behaviour. And letting the information flow freely can result in more awareness being created as well as more involvement with their content, it’s not as negative as what’s been espoused by the other side of the fence. If consumers can add to the experience, it benefits the content provider that much more.

      I don’t think this happens much, but I would love it if consumers started to associate content with distributors more. For instance, whether a film is released by Sony or Paramount or whoever, doesn’t seem to matter that much. However, if it did, distributors would have to be more sensitive to consumer behaviour trends – they wouldn’t be as willing to pull their content because it could result in an extremely negative backlash. Could you imagine if a distributor pulled content off YouTube and the Internet community boycotted it because of this action? All it would take is one occurrence for this to have an impact.

    • Viacom made the right decision. They can’t afford to rely on Google’s YouTube to drive revenue of the content they paid to produce. I have written an article about why Technology Companies need to own media here:

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