March 13, 2007
MTVN Speaks Out on Their Vision of User Grabability and Quoting Moving Forward

Interesting story in Reuters recently by Kenneth Li that had some preliminary promising points about MTV Networks' focus post-YouTube on how to work with and empower the viral spread of video content on the Web but through the company's own channels rather than YouTube. I haven't commented yet and was interested in the fallout, but I have to say that it's a major rhetorical step forward.

Basically, Viacom has plans to make videos from their sites "grabbable," in that users will be able to embed those videos in their own sites/blogs, much as users can from YouTube. The hope is to incorporate some of the technologies that has made YouTube work well into the videos they provide themselves, thus lessening the damage from not being a part of YouTube.

The ubiquity of YouTube is one thing that draws viewers to that site and which this service won't be able to overcome. After all, people love a one-stop-shop, but the move toward being able to imbed the videos into users' own sites is a major advantage for MTVN, since that "grabability" is one of the features that has driven interest in using YouTube.

MTVN's Global Digital Media President Mika Salmi spoke of not just opening their Web sites "for consumers and for other companies" but of opening content as well. I'm personally interested in what opening the content means. He said, "Part of that is allowing people to take our content and embed it and make your own things out of it, whatever they want."

Embedding and making whatever you want from video clips are two quite different activities, but both are what drives a lot of the interest in YouTube. I think the "grabability" issue will be covered well by MTVN, and I'm excited about the possibilities of letting users play with the content as well, if they really mean it as openly as it sounds.

Ben McConnell at Church of the Consumer writes, "MTV says it will create thousands of new niche-oriented sites based on its programming and invite viewers to participate with shows and remix their content. Control is really out of control now."

I have to say that I'm in complete agreement with their sentiment--"This is exactly how big media companies should fight the third-party sites; not with lawyers but with vast amounts of free content, tools to play with that content and vast new forms of participation."

Back in January, I wrote about how "quoting" is what drives interest in YouTube and how it is fundamental for the industry to identify the distinction between blatant piracy, on the one hand, and the social use of media clips and quoting, on the other. In many cases, quoting acts as a powerful form of viral marketing, but it only works that way when big media lets go of the reigns. Here, I don't mean letting people pirate the company's content in full--that would be foolish. But, on the other, being thick-skinned enough to let people quote from your material for clips is fundamental for what we argue for regularly here at C3.

As I wrote then:

A mash-up, in my mind, is one of those quoting abilities, just like showing a clip from a show to make a point. These make vibrant marketing tools, as they show enough content from your show to whet others' appetites (if the show's good, anyway), without users being able to plunk the whole show up for free. I think people very well should be upset about piracy, but quoters are not pirates.

But folks in the industry say that mashups are "chopping it up and putting your memories in a blender," as I quoted in the "Quoting in Piracy" piece. Or else they say the genie has to be put back in the bottle.

MTVN is one of our consortium partners, and while we have discussed with them issues surrounding viral video on plenty of occasions, we haven't talked with them about Mika's comments about allowing users to embed video into their own sites, quote from it, and for MTVN to provide hundreds of small channels linked together with program content made available for the masses. I have to say that I'm excited to see public statements about this, though, and for MTVN to be taking such a positive public step forward.

So far, there's been no public language about not allowing quotes that they fear could "damage the brand," as I think not being thick-skinned enough to let people use video to criticize your product does more damage then letting them do so, but we've seen that rhetoric recently from the BBC. The folks at Church of the Consumer pointed out that some reports have called the move dangerous but that the danger lies in NOT doing this. I concur, and I think this is the best non-YouTube strategy for the company to take in empowering viral marketing of their content.

I first learned about the Reuters story from Giff Constable at Electric Sheep Company.