Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Is Youtube really the new MTV?

I am no legal expert on copyright issues, but the latest instalment of You Tube vs Warner Brothers has led me to dig around what kind of money we’re talking here and who’s actually to blame for what. Forgive the length of this post.

2 years ago You Tube (now owned by Google), struck a deal with all of the major record companies. The deal was that when Google bought You Tube, record companies would just get a cut of the ads people saw when their content was watched instead of trying to sue You Tube. Lawsuits against You Tube are really hard to win anyway, since they’re protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This act protects people who run websites containing copyrighted content (including us bloggers) – it means the burden is on the owner of the copyright to tell the website owner the material is copyrighted and to take it down - which You Tube has reporting facilities for. The law around this only gets hazy when the whole point of the website is providing copyrighted material or the website owner has been asked to take down such links and they don't, or keep offending.

I can’t blame record labels for struggling to deal with the internet beast which is evolving so much faster than they are. Warner rushed in and were the first to strike a deal with You Tube so they don’t get great rates, and You Tube generates less than 1% of their annual income, (so last year it generated less than $6 million). That doesn’t sound too bad – until you look at what other people are making.

Universal 9,087 Videos; 3,025,854,115 Views
Sony BMG 1,782 Videos; 491,923,395 Views
ChrisBrownTV 17 Videos; 301,332,272
SouljaBoy 311 Videos; 268,283,129
Warnerbrosrecords are coming in 11th with 1,127 videos & 250,331,650 views

Universal indicates that its revenues run into the tens of millions, and it expects to make about $100 million from various video websites, (much of it from You Tube), this year. Chris Browns’ stats are the most impressive – and that must hurt.

What gets me is the constant comparisons between You Tube and MTV – and the inference that You Tube is the new MTV. It’s not.

To summarize; Youtube was founded in Feb 2005 by 3 former Paypal employees. It’s the third most popular website on the net, and in 2007 it used up more bandwidth in 2007 than the entire internet did in 2001 (ten hours of video is uploaded every minute, and over 100m Americans visited it last year). In case you don’t know bandwidth and high traffic cost a lot of money to host so they’re not just raking it in from advertising with no outlay – but it’s estimated they’ll make between $1-200m this year. 6 of its 10 most popular channels are music based.

MTV started in 1981, with the sole aim of being a music television channel (a visual version of radio), and the first music video shown on MTV was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by The Buggles. It originally started with a rock focus and, prior to 1983 didn’t really play much pop music or music by black artists (Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean changed the face of their programming almost overnight). It was widely used as a promotional tool for the music industry and was highly criticized for detracting from the quality of music and accused of creating a single-led, visual-based music culture, although it did also launch the careers or many alternative and underground acts through dedicated shows. As early as 1997 the channel came under fire for not playing as many music videos as it had in the past – by 2000 it was down to 8 hours a day, and currently it’s just 3 hours.

Here my gripe. MTV has always been through phases of having a narrow musical remit in terms of programming. On You Tube Warner has over 1,000 videos they are gaining revenue from – and some of them are just behind the scenes or old concert footage, which cost nothing to make. I’ve heard many claims that the internet is the reason for MTV reducing the number of music videos it plays – but they were down to 8 hours a day by 2000 and You Tube wasn’t created until 5 years later, so really companies should think themselves lucky that You Tube was created and earns them revenue because regardless they wouldn’t be getting much out of MTV anymore. Maybe MTV shot themselves in the foot by narrowing their programming too far – who wants to watch the new Beyonce video 3 times an hour?.

Look at the MTV Music Video awards (The VMAs) and the categories they’ve lost: Most Experimental Video (1984-1987), Best Concept Video (1984-1988), Best Post-Modern Video (1989-1990), Best Alternative Video (1991-1998), International Viewer's Choice (1990-2003). Gone gone gone. The winner of the Youtube music video award this year was Tay Zonday with the weird & hilarious Chocolate Rain (32,454,737 views to date). The first ever MTV VMA best video award winner was the weird & futuristic You Might Think, by The Cars in 1984. This year it was Britney Spears – Piece of me. Need I say more?

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