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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Did Google want to be sued ?

Michi Knows has an interesting theory about how Viacom's lawsuit has always been part of Google's strategy in buying YouTube.

He raises many interesting ideas (Go read them ! You can come back here afterwards :) ) but I believe the simplest explanation is usually the best, and I don't think you need to include the legal side to explain why Google bought youtube.

Google bought YouTube because it has a gazillion page views a day and is likely to grow enormously in years to come. This is the only thing that matters. Google's business is all about page views. Double the page views, double the revenue. It's that simple.

The legal threat from copyright holders doesn't matter much. You could ban all the TV content from YouTube and it would still be enormously popular. As of today, clips from the mainstream media are in the minority on YouTube. The most popular videos are user-generated. Those non-mainstream-media vids are getting better and better, because users are getting better at producing them, but also because serious producers from independent labels and small studios are realizing that YouTube is a great advertising medium, and indie artists are recognizing it, and MySpace, as great ways to be discovered. YouTube is all about distributing those kinds of videos, not television shows. (That's more iTunes' or Joost's business.) In the long run, YouTube doesn't even need the mainstream media.

As of today, Viacom wants a billion bucks. So what ? Google will negotiate a deal and this will never reach the courts. Why fight it out ? Google might win of course, even though Napster and Kazaa lost, and their business model was pretty close to YouTube's, but why bother ? Even a "win" would surely involve a court decision constraining Google/YouTube to do something about piracy, and that would be expensive and technologically challenging. (Yes, even for Google.)

Of course, if what Viacom really wants is to kill YouTube plain and simple, then it will have to go to court. Maybe their faith in Joost goes so far that they're willing to sacrifice all the free publicity they get on YouTube and all the goodwill in the world just to cripple a competitor. Maybe. But for Google, maintaining the status quo is much simpler and less expensive.

Are new distribution media and business models like YouTube's showing the need for a serious rehaul of copyright laws ? Certainly. But this is not Google's fight. The only thing they did was to buy a site with the potential for huge traffic, so that this traffic would be their own, not Yahoo's or Microsoft's. Of course they thought about the legal issues. But those are peripheral, not strategic.

PS: the latest TWiT discusses this subject at length.

2 comments:

gf_1 said...

Another side-note... google on the way into the living room.

gf_1 said...

http://www.digg.com/tech_news/Google_s_PVR_Warehouse_and_the_YouTube_case