YouTube's Search Fix

In the midst of ongoing frictions between YouTube and Big Media, I'd like to suggest a change that could help both sides. To fight piracy and provide more value to the entertainment industry, YouTube should alter its site search ranking to favor its partners -- the roughly 25 big media players like Sony Pictures, Capitol Records, and NBC, each of whom have their own channels within YouTube.

I say this because, increasingly, YouTube's site search is the video-search tool of choice for the video downloading set. And as is the case with any search tool, higher-ranking YouTube results are more likely to get viewed, while lower-ranking ones get ignored. By placing Partners on top of YouTube search rankings, YouTube would effectively hand viewership over to its partners, while forcing pirates -- who compete for that same viewership -- down into obscurity.

This kind of favoring wouldn't just fight pirates, either. It could also improve relevancy. A YouTube search for "The Office" is probably a search for video footage from the NBC show -- rather than, say, for the user-generated parody that currently outranks NBC's own YouTube clip. Giving partners the top slot would have made the NBC footage come before the parody, making searchers happier. Multiply that increased relevancy over every partner title a YouTube searcher could look for, and you'll see the value I'm talking about.



Despite all the reasons for favoring partner videos, though, YouTube doesn't seem to feature such an approach in its game plan.

Let's go back to the "Office" clip. NBC's clip is actually outranked by three clips, not one -- driving NBC below-the-fold on a typical laptop. The first and second competing results are taken from the show and a deleted scene, respectively, and both are posted by YouTube users.

Meanwhile, a search for ABC's "Lost" -- which has its own YouTube channel -- yielded none of the "Lost" channel's clips on the first two results pages. Many of the clips that did appear were "Lost" parodies.

Adult Swim, whose "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" you may recognize from the scare it caused in Boston, is yet another YouTube partner. Its channel features a promo clip for the upcoming Aqua Teen movie, but a YouTube search on that show's name features no Adult Swim postings on the first two results pages. Those pages do feature what appear to be pirated full-length episodes.

To be sure, the partner channels aren't being ignored. As I write this, NBC has the fourth-most-viewed channel on all of YouTube at 831,007 views, and partner channels' clips do appear on the homepage's "Featured Videos" and "Director Video" slots.

But the partners are undoubtedly losing viewership because it's hard to find them. And it's not just a problem of search listings: to get to a partner channel's main page, you need to find a button that's hidden two pages away from the home page -- which is hardly prime visibility.

Why haven't partners made an issue of their poor standing in YouTube search? Maybe because Big Media hasn't yet fully grasped search's value. Consider ABC -- which offers full-length downloads of its most popular shows, surely placing it amongst the most Web-forward of the big media giants. When it comes to search, is clearly lagging.

For starters, the page on which visitors can download full-length ABC programs has minimal HTML text -- even though HTML is the language that search engines read best. Even the names of the shows themselves are absent from the page's HTML. Title tags are also critical for organic rankings, but the page's title tag -- " full episode player" -- doesn't mention the word "download." I could go on, but suffice it to say that it's not surprising that on the term "download lost," is absent from Google's first organic result page.

Actually, doesn't appear on the Google paid listings for "download lost" either: this, even though at least 10 downloading services are advertising in Google on that term. And ABC, again, is a true leader of the online pack amongst the big media -- you can only imagine where the followers stand with search.

And so in the midst of the give-and-take over online piracy, both YouTube and the big media companies are missing opportunities all around. YouTube needs to assuage its frictions with Big Media, as it's their content that draws much of its traffic. Big Media knows that TV won't last forever, so it needs to find a new channel for distributing video. As the leader among social video sites, YouTube is the perfect candidate to become that new channel.

Obviously, the concerns on each sides are real. For a way out of their current deadlock, each side should be looking to the search bar.

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