Whose Tube is You Tube?

Between cleaning out my inbox, posting on the blog, and reporting for the magazine, it is no surprise that I missed out watching the India-Pakistan cricket series almost entirely. For those who don’t know its like Boston Red Sox versus New York Yankees, except bigger. Worried, that I missed on the games, I asked Wasim, the wonderful host at Punjab Kebab House in Tandoor-loin district of San Francisco, if he had any tapes.

His response – why don’t you watch the highlights on the Internet. He pointed me to You Tube. Quite amazing, because I found properly tagged videos of the copyright broadcasts, perfectly packaged for expat viewing. First reaction to Wasim’s recommendation: wow, You Tube is as big as Napster. In fact, much bigger, thanks to broadband penetration. Second reaction… eewww! It is like Napster.

It reminded me of my post from last month – Google, You Tube and Dark Side of Online Video. I had raised concerns about this then, and only this past week, I saw that NBC was issuing a cease and desist to You Tube over a SNL clip. You Tube (and Google) can hide behind DMCA to some extent, but in the end as one commenter on my previous post had said – this is no different than Napster. Listings (and hosting) of other people’s content can and will always get you in trouble.

Stewart Butterfield in response to my previous post had pointed out that SNL clip was one of the biggest hits on You Tube, and perhaps “it’s not in NBC’s interest to protest at this point: it probably helps drive interest in SNL, YouTube’s content is not really being monetized now, and NBC isn’t offering any alternative. But when either of those last two factors change, things could get harder.”

Well, he proved to be a sooth sayer, and things did get harder. Now that SNL clips are being sold on iTunes for $1.99, NBC stands to lose money, which means a C&D. Unlike Napster, here is a direct correlation in lost sales. (India-Pakistan series in total would have cost me about $150.) NBC’s actions sparked off a healthy discussion, though makes me wonder why we had to wait for New York Times to write about this before causing a commotion. Nevermind… I believe that the growing popularity of You Tube (and other online video sites… about 95 in total as per Mary Hodder of Dabble) has less to do with amateur content, and more to do with copyright infringing content. After all if I had not wanted to see those cricket games, there was little chance of me visiting and spending so much time on You Tube. I wonder how many people actually visit You Tube to watch broadcast content online.

Maybe that is one of the reasons why online video companies like Brightcove (on the front page of Wall Street Journal) have a much better future than You Tube. Despite the glowing profile, I do wonder how much of Brightcove’s future depends on content companies’ desire to cannibalize their current businesses. Amateur video content is far from being must-see TV.