Monday, October 23, 2006

Controlling YouTube’s content would be a propagandists wet dream

YouTube Changing Culture Access To Avenues Of Communication Are Democratized
October 19, 2006
By PATRICK GOLDSTEIN, Los Angeles Times (cut and pasted from the Hartford Courant website)

Appearing on "The Daily Show" the other night to plug his new Comedy Central program, "Freak Show," David Cross joked that he assumed all the viewers had already seen the show.

You're right, Stewart said with a laugh, "None of them get Comedy Central, they all (go to) YouTube."Welcome to the new media universe, where for millions of video junkies, the best TV network in America isn't Comedy Central, MTV, ESPN or even HBO, but YouTube, the amazing website whose video clips are viewed more than 100 million times each day. Launched last year, the website has enjoyed an astounding ascent, being bought last week by Google for $1.65 billion.

In an era increasingly defined by audience-driven events, YouTube represents the triumph of bottom-up culture and another sign that old media businesses, from record companies and TV networks to newspapers, are going to see more of their audience migrating to the Internet.

In the old days - meaning way, way back in 2004 - if I'd missed ABC's Diane Sawyer grilling Mel Gibson or Bill Clinton getting into a spitting match with Fox News reporter Chris Wallace, I'd kick myself for not taping it, then frantically scramble around trying to find a replay. Now I go to YouTube. The website is best known for its homemade videos, like the guy who guzzles Mentos and Diet Coke or Lonelygirl15, whose two-minute videos became a Web mystery sensation this summer.

The impact of this instantaneous access has been earthshaking, from politics to pop culture. Speaking at a conference in Paris last week, Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney minced few words about how thoroughly the landscape has been altered.

"The digital revolution has unleashed a consumer coup," she said.

"Audiences have the upper hand and show no sign of giving it back."

YouTube is already having an impact on this year's election cycle. In years past, political candidates were sold essentially in the same way as movie stars, in carefully staged settings and market-tested ads. Now the scripted veneer has been stripped away by young volunteers, armed with video cameras, who stalk opposition candidates, record their gaffes and post them on YouTube.

The best-known gotcha YouTube post came from an Indian American student tailing Sen. George Allen, R-Va. The student recently captured an irritated Allen pointing him out and telling his supporters, "Let's give a welcome to macaca here - welcome to America."

The slur prompted a tsunami of media coverage that sent Allen's campaign into a tailspin. Another popular series of clips shows U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., on the campaign trail, joshing about his Guatemalan gardener and struggling to stay awake during a Senate hearing.

For some, YouTube is a giant compendium of home videos; for others, an arts encyclopedia.

Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout, a recent convert, found he could use the site's search engine to link to rare, long-ago performances by the likes of Count Basie, Pablo Casals, Andres Segovia and Jascha Heifetz. With Bravo and other networks swapping highbrow fare for "Dog the Bounty Hunter," Teachout views YouTube as a cultural savior or, as he put it, "by posting this list of links, I have, in effect, created a Web-based fine arts video-on-demand site."

(See his posting at

YouTube is something special, a great leap forward in the democratization of pop culture. After seeing a video called "Lazy Muncie," a spoof of a "Saturday Night Live" sketch called "Lazy Sunday" that had itself become a sensation after being posted on YouTube, L.A. radio commentator Rob Long viewed the impact this way:

"What does it say if you're Lorne Michaels and it turns out there are two funny guys in Muncie who don't need you to give them permission to make a funny little movie because YouTube is their network and YouTube doesn't have a vice president of comedy development to say, `Yeah, but um, can it be about people in their 30s juggling relationships and their careers?'

"While some fans are justifiably worried that the sale of YouTube to Google will usher in the kind of advertising clutter rampant at MySpace, which looks like the Web equivalent of a Sunset Strip billboard forest, most of YouTube's troubles have arisen from media companies who view video sharing as an attack on their copyrights and business models. Earlier this year, NBC forced the site to remove "Lazy Sunday," believing fans should have to go to the network's website to view it, apparently unaware that the young guys watching the clip on YouTube were the same guys who'd already stopped watching "SNL" and network TV in general.

This summer, NBC announced a marketing arrangement with YouTube, which was followed by licensing deals with CBS, Warner Music and Sony BMG Music. But the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that lawyers from News Corp., NBC Universal and Viacom still believe YouTube could be liable for copyright penalties of $150,000 per unauthorized video.

Last month, Universal Music chief Doug Morris blasted YouTube and News Corp.-owned MySpace, calling them "copyright infringers," saying the sites "owe us tens of millions of dollars."

But last week Morris agreed to license Universal Music content to YouTube in return for some form of compensation.

Asked if News Corp. would go after YouTube for copyright violations, that corporation's Peter Chernin, Hollywood's most vocal advocate of copyright protection, said, "We don't have any immediate plans to do anything, and frankly, if we did, we wouldn't announce it now."

It may take years for all these bewildering legal issues to play out. But for now, YouTube is an unruly swap meet. But it's also the kind of level playing field where some noisy kid dancing in his underwear has just as much star power as a pampered celebrity.

Is this a democracy or what?

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