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YouTube’s Top Hits Show Old TV’s Heft

Dec 18, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Apparently YouTube needs Hollywood more than Hollywood needs YouTube.

As television executives debate whether to cozy up to, sue or demand high licensing fees from YouTube, the evidence is right there on YouTube’s home page that old media has the upper hand.

Since CBS’s high-profile deal to provide YouTube with clips from the broadcast network, Showtime and CSTV kicked in two months ago, the most-viewed daily and weekly videos now include several snippets from those networks, suggesting that network fare is the fuel behind YouTube’s uptick in November, when the number of unique viewers to the site increased to 35.8 million from October’s 30.3 million. The rise coincided with the CBS fare’s winning the daily most-popular contests.

So just as video killed the radio star, television appears to be wasting viral video, outpacing the once-popular grainy, handheld look of kooky lip-syncs, crazy skate tricks and “Jackass”-style stunts with slick, honest-to-goodness network TV promos and clips.

Late last week, the most-viewed videos included an ad for AOL search, an ad from YouTube’s new partner Verizon Wireless, clips from “Dr. Phil,” Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell,” CBS’s “Late Show With David Letterman” and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson,” alongside more traditional viral entertainment such as Britney Spears and Paris Hilton paparazzi videos and a clip of a girl performing an oral feat with a banana.

That’s a far cry from the heady viral-video heyday of August, when the most-viewed clips on YouTube included a banned beer commercial, lonelygirl15, a woman who took a picture of herself every day for three years, a drunk guy jumping off a roof into a tree, the slow-motion Home Depot shopping video, clips from the Emmys, soccer videos and some professional content, such as a Beyonce video and movie trailers for “Pulse.”

“How many people throwing Coke bottles or falling down stairs or torturing their cats can you watch?” asked Greg Sterling, principal with Sterling Market Intelligence. “You get bored.”

But users don’t want a whitewashed experience that only spoon-feeds them polished network material. “My personal belief is people want both,” Mr. Sterling said.

YouTube said it’s not changing direction or steering away from its roots as a user-generated site. “Our community enjoys both user-generated content and professional content as long as the clip is entertaining. The users decide what is popular and what they want to watch,” Jenny Nielsen, marketing manager of YouTube, said in an e-mail.

YouTube has always trafficked in network content; the difference now is that the site has struck aboveboard deals with content owners to feature that content legally. In recent months, YouTube signed licensing deals with CBS, NBC, the National Hockey League, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and Warner Bros. Those partners often corral the coveted featured spots on the site’s main pages, which can drive viewership.

Also, in late October YouTube removed nearly 30,000 video clips from Japanese TV programs, music videos and movies after The Japan Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers requested they be taken down.

Such gestures make rights-holders happy, but they can turn off users, said T.S. Kelly, VP and director of research and insight for Media Contacts, the interactive arm of media agency MPG.

But others have navigated this balancing act successfully. Mr. Sterling points to MySpace, which did not alienate users after News Corp. purchased it in 2005 for $580 million. The site garnered 39.5 billion page views in November, 200 percent above page views the year before, according to comScore.