If I Ruled Viacom...

This week's announcement that Viacom required YouTube to pull down all copyrighted material signals to me that there is still a very short-term view being applied to this burgeoning distribution model for video content.

Think about this for one moment: Why can't these publishers find a way to harness the interest and audience for their videos from remote locations and drive them to other copyrighted content? NBC learned its lesson, so you'd think Viacom might as well.

NBC originally sent a cease-and-desist regarding the "Saturday Night Live" skit "Lazy Sunday," but only after the clip had made the rounds and become one of the most-viewed online videos ever. The network then removed all links and remote-hosted versions of the video and attempted to drive traffic to its own site to watch the video -- but by then everyone had already watched the skit and there was no attraction to view it on the NBC site. What would have been more interesting is if NBC had immediately embraced the online audience and found a way to use that interest as a means of resurrecting attention for a show that rarely, if ever, manages to garner an audience even half the size of the one that viewed "Lazy Sunday" online. Eventually NBC understood and did a much better job of utilizing the Web over the holidays, with the distribution of a little Web video featuring Justin Timberlake and his favorite holiday gift.



I see the problem as the publishers who own this content being unable to monetize their content in the existing infrastructure. Everyone is still focused on a commercial-based model of pre-rolls or mid-rolls. Though these are certainly models which can be applied to longer-form content such as 45-minute TV shows or eventually films, for shorter-form content I think a different model needs to be developed. For example, when a user watches a video on YouTube, it is always immediately followed by a recommendation on other relevant videos. Why can't a publisher purchase a unit on that page that drives the viewer to the official site for even more of the same kind of content, and pay YouTube a referral fee for this traffic? YouTube and the other video sites represent an entry point for user-generated content, but UGC is only a stepping stone to professionally generated content, which has higher production values and is almost always going to be viewed more than UGC.

If I were running Viacom, I would develop a strategy that allowed for content to be distributed just about anywhere on the Web, but providing for a ubiquitous opportunity to visit my sites for more of this type of content. Think about it; if you're willing to pay to run ads all over the Web that drive traffic to your site by featuring the kind of content that a consumer will view on your sites, why wouldn't you want to find a way to get that same or larger exposure for free? Why would you want to put a stop to the free publicity and the free audience generated by remote distribution of some of your videos? The only reason I can see is that these companies are afraid that the 10% of their videos that are being copied and viewed remotely represent the top 10% of their content, and the remaining content is not worth viewing.

If I were in charge, I would focus my resources on developing these sorts of reciprocal partnerships that drive interest in my product and find a way to convert that interest to become my audience. YouTube exists because the content changes rapidly and a large volume of content can run through its doors. Viacom exists for almost the same reason; however, it has found a way to monetize that content because it owns the rights. Somewhere in the middle is the solution and the business model for the upcoming millennium. Identify a way to build an audience using remote distribution to drive attention to your core business and you will become effective.

Maybe Viacom should ask some of us to be in charge for a year -- and then we can all figure it out together!

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