As media companies continue to negotiate with top-ranked video site YouTube in boardrooms and in lawyers’ offices over unauthorized uploads of copyrighted material, Web traffic to both network sites and Google-owned YouTube has risen in the last two months.
That increase suggests pulling videos from YouTube, as Viacom did with more than 100,000 clips on Feb. 2, doesn’t harm the site. It also underscores the voracious appetite consumers have for online video.
Viacom said traffic to its Web sites rose in February, the month following the takedown, compared to the year before. Viacom-owned MTV.com and ComedyCentral.com grew by 49 percent and Nick.com by 28 percent, due in part to downloads of shows, Thomas E. Dooley, chief financial officer for Viacom, said during the company’s earnings call earlier this month. According to Nielsen//NetRatings, MTV.com’s weekly traffic remained steady in January and February, but Nick.com traffic rose after the takedown.
At the same time, YouTube’s traffic grew from 17 million unique visitors for the week ending Jan. 28 to as high as 19 million per week in the weeks following the takedown.
Visits to the broadcast network Web sites — ABC.com, NBC.com, Fox.com and CBS.com — also ticked up throughout the month of February. In addition, ABC.com has generated more than 60 million episode starts on its video player since September, and about 25 million of those have occurred since mid-January.
“[Online video] is a category growing very rapidly and driven largely by YouTube but not exclusively, and all of this media discussion of ‘no you can’t have my clips’ propels it,” said Greg Sterling, principal with Sterling Market Intelligence.
YouTube did not comment directly on its talks with major media companies to strike above-board deals. However, YouTube said in a statement that it already includes filtering tools on its site and plans to roll out more in the future.
Until it does, legal machinations likely will continue. “A court at a high enough level will conclude that video-upload Web sites cannot solely rely on the takedown notices,” said Richard Neff, lead technology partner at Los Angeles law firm Greenberg Glusker. When that finally happens, Google and YouTube likely will have the technology installed and will be ready to strike deals, he said.
Even YouTube’s partners want the site to clean up its act. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said last week at a Bear Stearns conference that it’s important to partner with YouTube and Google for the promotional exposure in reaching a younger audience. But, he added, “The dispute we’re having with the technology guys, with the Google guys and the Yahoo guys and all those guys, is they don’t quite respect the content enough.”
ABC has kept a low profile because it remains focused on its own site. “You sort of have to acknowledge what these aggregation sites are supposed to be doing … a community of users excited about expressing what they find funny or cool,” said Albert Cheng, executive VP for digital media at the Disney-ABC Television Group. “The online world is someplace we want to play for ourselves, and it’s more about a dialogue and less about suing someone.”