Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Perhaps the beginning of the end for YouTube

The Economist asks this week: Down the YouTube?

IT HAS been a terrible month for Google, the biggest search engine and the internet’s reigning superpower, and for its subsidiary, YouTube, the pioneer and precocious leader of online video. Users may love them, but the old-media companies, feeling increasingly exploited, loathe them, sue them, and gang up on them. And that matters, because neither Google nor YouTube, as quintessential “new-media” companies, own any of the content that they organise so well.

With the announcement on Thursday March 22nd of a new online-video venture between NBC Universal, the huge media unit of General Electric, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, almost every big media company is now, with varying degrees of hostility, aligned against Google and YouTube.

Viacom is suing them for $1 billion, alleging massive copyright theft; it is also teaming up with an innovative new online-television company, Joost, to make its videos available legally. Walt Disney is allied with Apple and its iTunes store, which is increasingly a squeaky-clean (in terms of copyright law) video retailer besides being a music store.

YouTube has no reason to believe it can remain on top amidst such an assault. Then again, YouTube has every reason to believe it can out-maneuver these upstarts. One word: Google. The innovative and super-technically proficient Google behemoth did not stumble into the Internet juggernaut it has become.

Yet, it will be far more interesting to watch how video and other visual media are disseminated in the years to come. Google/YouTube has already shown worrisome signs of self-censorship, whether it involves acquiescence to China, or cutting down on free speech (as I've written about here), or even turning a blind eye on radical Islamic hate speech (out of political correctness), as I've noted here.

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