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The Marriage of Google & YouTube


I’m not certain I know what to make of Google’s recent announcement that it will purchase the wildly popular digital video site YouTube for more $1.65 billion in stock.

YouTube is a bona fide Internet phenomenon; of that there is no doubt. Admittedly, I’m a YouTube laggard. I don’t spend much time on YouTube, and when I do it is usually because someone I know emailed me a link to a hilarious new video clip they spotted there (and when I say hilarious, I mean anything between laugh out loud funny and utter waste of time).

I average about one YouTube-related email per week in my in-box. That’s not very much, but I don’t consider my experience to be much of a barometer, even though I fall within the demographically lucrative 42 percent of YouTubers over the age of 35. Once in a while, after I’ve checked out the video, I’ll browse around to see what else catches my eye. I tend to spend about a minute before moving on to something else.

Since this isn’t about my YouTube habits, but about what the Google acquisition of YouTube means, I won’t bore you with any further details about my personal YouTube experience. Had I any interesting anecdotes to offer I probably would share them, but since I don’t…

The reason I feel compelled to use this space to write about Google and YouTube is to wonder publicly how and why the acquisition makes sense. By spending $1.65 billion on YouTube, Google is making a rather loud proclamation that it believes it can generate something more than $1.65 billion plus $1 in revenue by monetizing traffic to YouTube.

The success of YouTube has been driven virally by user-generated content, not through traditional marketing techniques. Joe Average’s enthusiasm for, and skill with digital video production, no matter how rudimentary, means a near endless supply of new content with which to keep the YouTube public amused. Much of that user-generated content is camp, but there’s enough good stuff to keep it intriguing. Clips from television shows like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, and other professional and professional quality footage is posted by fans and flaks alike.

The “authorized” videos are used to entice browsers into becoming consumers of the shows being sampled, a la The Daily Show. The YouTube infiltration marketing strategy is among the worst-kept secrets in the industry (note the lack of copyright infringement lawsuits of the sort that sank Napster), but it has been tolerated by the YouTube community because the perpetrators, although commercial, play to the audience: Young men looking to be entertained. These efforts pay clever homage to the community, illustrating YouTube’s collective influence.

Problem is, just a few weeks ago, revelations that the LonelyGirl15 phenomenon turned out to be little more than a clever piece of fiction resulted in a sense of betrayal, voiced by many who were taken in by the supposedly authentic teen video diary. While sublime in it’s execution, the machine behind LonelyGirl15 violated an unwritten code of trust: be genuine, but if you aren’t going to be genuine, don’t play us for fools.

Enter Google. With big money now sitting behind the curtain at YouTube, there’s a real risk that YouTube’s genuineness – the very thing that drove it into stratospheric popularity – may have suffered irreparable damage. If that isn’t troubling to Google and its shareholders, it should at least be an issue that gets some attention. Google’s purchase of YouTube can only heighten concerns that the medium is vulnerable to profit-motivated manipulation, and a $1.65 billion price tag confirms such a notion. Every move by Google that concerns YouTube, and every successful video campaign posted to YouTube, must now be viewed through jaundiced eyes.

The stink of money may not doom the marriage of Google and YouTube, but it will be a serious drag on its potential as a profit generator for the search giant. Like Brad and Jennifer, every move Google-YouTube makes will be publicly scrutinized by the online community. The lingering issue will be how they handle the pressure.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 11:43 PM | Permalink

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