Fight or unite? Sharing the perks
Unauthorised sharing might make content owners nervous, but they should not fight it, as there are valuable opportunities for free advertising and brand promotion, says Catherine Turner
When Viacom and CBS chairman Sumner Redstone addressed a US conference this month, he used a well-worn, almost hackneyed refrain among media executives – that of content as “king”. Broadcasters and internet operators are increasingly acknowledging the popularity of video-sharing services, such as Google-owned YouTube, prompting others, such as Bebo, to open their networks to exploit content.
Yet, as Redstone went on to tell the audience at Dow Jones and Nielsen’s Media and Money conference in New York, says: “If content is king, copyright is its castle.” And that, ever more, is the dichotomy facing content owners around social media.
YouTube has been embroiled in a highprofile battle with content owners including Redstone’s Viacom and the Premier League, which want to restrict illegal use and download of copyrighted content. Meanwhile, others have struck deals to stream content for free or through revenue share. Such is the dual challenge facing broadcast content owners – using social media to monetise content, while combating illegal use.
“You can not pay the rent by posting videos on YouTube,” notes Redstone. “Most aspiring novelists do not aim to self publish. You can’t make it as a musician, a film-maker or a writer without effective and enforced copyright legislation.” He calls the time and effort spent creating, producing, marketing and distributing content an “investment”, saying it was never intended to be a “donation”. In March, Viacom filed a suit against Google and YouTube, which Google bought for $1.65bn (£883m) a year ago, seeking $1bn (£591m) in damages for copyright infringement, claiming the site’s business model was “illegal”. The entertainment company, which owns MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon said YouTube, the Web’s most popular video-sharing site, had built a lucrative business out of exploiting the devotion of fans to others’ creative works in order to enrich itself and its corporate parent Google.
That suit was followed two months later by complainants including the Premier League and music publisher Bourne, also for copyright infringement. Bob Ivins, managing director of comScore Europe, believes such moves are more a means of companies pushing for the platforms to beef up their systems, rather than pushing to claim money “owed”.
Google has responded to concerns last month by unveiling technology, which it claims can identify copyrighted content and dictate its use on YouTube. But it cannot prevent users posting potentially illegal content, meaning that identifying content is still the responsibility of media companies. However, the Football Association deems the solution inadequate.
Fanning the flames
Meanwhile, pop star Prince (or, more accurately, his record label), having threatened to sue YouTube, eBay and other major internet sites, has now moved to tackle fan sites. Internet policing specialist Web Sheriff has served several sites dedicated to the singer with legal notice to remove all images of the singer, his lyrics and “anything linked to Prince’s likeness”.
A little extreme perhaps? Increasingly, content owners are working with platforms, rather than fighting against them. Just this month, Bebo unveiled its Open Media initiative, which 22 broadcasters signed up to on its launch day.
The BBC, Channel 4, BSkyB and MTV are among broadcasters enabling Bebo’s 40 million users to view free footage, add it to their profiles and share it with other users. Each broadcaster retains copyright. They are not charged to create their own pages – which can screen footage via broadcaster’s existing media players – although Bebo charges for promotion elsewhere on the site.
Bebo hopes the move will help it retain existing users and attract new ones, as it competes with other social networking sites, including Facebook and MySpace. A spokesman says: “Our users no longer have to exit Bebo and go to separate sites, such as YouTube, to find and share TV footage.” The BBC was also one of the earlier broadcasters to link with YouTube, and hasthree branded “channels” on the site.
Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions commercial director Chris Ward says companies such as Microsoft get involved in order to create experiences for consumers – and, of course, to attract advertisers and content providers looking for new revenue streams.
“We partner with great content providers like BBC iPlayer, ITN, Control Room and National Geographic to bring quality, licensed and original programming to consumers on our MSN portal,” he says.
“Consumers can share these clips with their contacts in real time over Windows Live Messenger, while advertisers are able to monetise them through MSN Video’s new immersive, sequence-based advertising model,” he adds.
“Microsoft has a deep belief in the responsible use and aggressive protection of intellec-tual property, and in the success of our usergenerated video service in the long term.” The software giant says it has implemented copyright filtering solutions into its video service, Soapbox, on MSN Video. Commercial broadcaster ITV has outlined its plans to use other aggregators and sites to spread its own content. Both executive chairman Michael Grade and director of global content Dawn Airey have been explicit about the broadcaster’s need to exploit the success of other platforms in order to drive people back to its own revamped itv.com site.
At TV conference Promax, Airey says: “Most media companies have learnt from their music company counterparts and have come to see YouTube as a valuable resource – essentially free advertising.”
She adds that clips on such sites can be topped and tailed with pre-roll ads, which some studies suggest have a much higher recall thanconventional TV spots and, in turn, generate extra revenue for ITV. Airey says that the “likes of” ITV1, Channel 4 and Fox cannot compete with sites like Facebook (valued at around $15bn (£7bn)) after Microsoft bought a stake, despite 2007 profit expectations of $30m (£15m)).
However, sites showing video content owe a “huge debt” to the entertainment industry, which provides – legally or otherwise – the vast majority of their top clips. The second most viewed clip on YouTube is one uploaded
by record company RCA Records of Avril Lavigne’s song Girlfriend, with almost 60 million hits. And a clip of ITV1 show Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts has more than 30 million combined views.
Meanwhile, Channel 4’s E4 struck a deal this year with MySpace to broadcast the first episode of new teen drama Skins on the networking site before its TV debut. The episode was split into four segments, with users able to view each part in the lead up to the TV airing of Skins on E4. The deal was a first for MySpace and E4, and the first time Channel 4 had made content available online before broadcast.
Such initiatives are aimed at promoting TV and music brands, as well as the broadcaster’s own online properties, shows and channels, while also generating extra revenue stream. In the US, several TV programmes experienced a discernible audience increase after they made clips available on YouTube.
It makes sense, says AOL UK managing director Michael Steckler, who says that while broadcasters are experts in content, they are not as able or knowledgeable in monetising or exploiting platforms as the online brands.AOL is also ploughing more of its resources into video sharing, which, with the rise of broadband, is exploding. But it is taking a different approach. Steckler says: “Our view is that the aggregation of great content is the direction that the internet is going in.”
The portal bought video search aggregator Truveo in 2006 and has been investing in expanding the brand. Unlike YouTube, Truveo doesn’t store content, but indexes it from sources around the internet. Truveo pulls some videos into a window embedded in its website or directs users to where the video is hosted – popular with broadcasters who increasingly want to drive traffic to their sites.
Keeping it up
“Rights are very important to us because we are part of Time Warner, which has huge amounts of content”, says Steckler. “The challenge content owners have is giving programming longevity. Viewers tend to drop off from a launch peak, perhaps coming back towards the end of a series. Programmes such as Heroes or Big Brother, where there is lots of engagement around social media areas, do well online.”
The challenge of unauthorised content will rumble on regardless, although technology advances should reassure nervous content owners. They have, however, learnt from mistakes made by the music companies in the first days
of file sharing and are more willing to exploit such sites for their own gain.
As even Redstone concludes: “We are in a fragmented search economy, which means we need to extend our content beyond our own destination sites so that consumers can reach it more easily. The content mountain has officially relocated.”