October 24, 2007
Copyright Crackdown: Coalitions, Aggregation, and Audiences (1 of 2)

Viacom suing Google for a billion dollars may be old news, but the ten days have marked a sudden and a little bit startling push of the big media companies and government to defend copyright of video on the web. These events, although not totally unexpected, may have long-term implications for audiences in how we access television content online, and signal a need for some changes in how media companies relate to their audiences.

What happened? Replaying the last 10 days

There were four important developments this week: Google's YouTube announcement, the media company pact, the shutdown of TV Links, and NBC closing out its YouTube channel.

It really began last Monday, when Google announced that they were launching a new service on YouTube for content producers, beta tested by Disney and Time-Warner, that would essentially create a database of copyrighted content to identify copyright violating videos and improve controls for media companies in terms of taking down or leaving up infringing clips. Although it was not the fingerprinting technology that had been discussed before, it doesn't stop copyrighted material from being uploaded, and the Viacom suit is still pending, reactions from media companies were cautiously upbeat. See Sam Ford's post here on the C3 blog about these issues here.

Then, on Thursday, a collection of many of the same media companies joined together, this time without Google, to announce a pact they made to block pirated material before it became accessible and take down other copyright infringing clips online.

Friday, in the UK, the founder of the British content directory website site TV Links was arrested and the site was shut down. By providing a central point for links to illegally uploaded content, British authorities said that TV Links was facilitating copyright infringement.

Then, in a related story, sometime late last week or early this week, NBC quietly pulled its YouTube channel. Many reports speculate, and I agree, that this was likely in preparation for the launch of Hulu, the content aggregation site that they are in partnership with FOX on. TechCrunch reports that the Beta launch is expected to happen this coming Monday.

Now what? Some predictions

If I have learned anything from watching the race to monetize online video and keep audience attention online, it is to expect the unexpected. However, I do think that these developments over the last ten days signal some significant trends. My predictions are that:

1. The industry may actually be ready to work together - for now.
2. Aggregator sites are the next target.
3. Audiences are the customers, and someone needs to give them a voice.

I will examine each of these predictions in some greater detail in my subsequent post tomorrow, and I plan to follow it up with some specific recommendations for working with fans and lead users.