YouTube’s Messaging Problem

Like any large organization, Google has competing bureaucracies and therefore its wholly-owned subsidiary YouTube does as well.  (Google is now the largest media company in the world.)  YouTube’s organizational independence is additionally blurred because it is the #2 producer of revenue inside Google relative to search and advertising sales.

There seems to be a three-legged stool of competing interests in dealing with YouTube which we can describe with generalized labels–the “engineers”, the “policy people” (essentially Fred Von Lohmann) who are mostly lobbyists and lawyers, and the “business people” starting with Robert Kyncl at least at the moment.  It’s unclear who has the upper hand in this triumvirate, but it’s pretty clear that the business people do not control their destiny.

That leaves jump ball for control of YouTube’s deals between the engineers and the policy people who seem to compete with coming up with the solution that is the worst for anyone with a passing acquaintance with private property rights in general, and artist rights in particular.  I say artist rights because it’s not just copyright that is the problem with YouTube–it’s also right of publicity, control over derivative works, translations, moral rights, misappropriation, and other consent rights one would expect any artist would have.  Plus copyright.  Artists certainly do get some of these rights pretty much for the asking from the big bad record companies in the form of marketing restrictions, for example.  Hence, “artist rights.”

YouTube’s ineffective negotiating power with Big Google is particularly confusing because YouTube is both a search engine and an advertising publisher.  (Let’s call the larger Google “Big Google”.)

We sometimes forget that YouTube is the largest video search engine in the world.  Once the European Commission gets through fining Google for predatory business practices with Google search, and finishes up the Commission’s separate prosecution of Google for predatory business practices with Android, the Commission may then have the appetite to bring a case against Google for some of the same predatory practices as applied to YouTube.  I’m going to guess that Google’s dominance of video search is likely equal to or in excess of its dominant position in organic search and mobile meaning the EC’s scrutiny will be quite enhanced and (by that time) educated in Big Google’s ways.

Why it is that YouTube has such little clout internally is anyone’s guess.  My bet is that if YouTube didn’t have to check with a host of bureaucrats at Big Google, it would be much, much easier to do business with YouTube.

What’s obvious is that the engineers and policy people do not understand a fundamental point about dealing with the creative community.  They are every bit as much of ambassadors to the creative community–the entire creative community, not just the YouTubers who essentially are entirely dependent on YouTube for their success–as are the creative people or marketing folk at YouTube.

To state the obvious, unlike the YouTube lottery winners, professional artists who are not dependent on YouTube are not dependent on YouTube.  If pushed, there very well may come a day that they move on.  En masse.

That may happen sooner than you might think, despite YouTube’s monopoly on video search.  YouTube is currently taking a beating from artists and songwriters.  Note that the beating is administered to YouTube–not to the engineers and the policy people at Big Google.  Or not yet, anyway.  Most professional creators don’t know these bureaucrats exist.  Those bureaucrats at Big Google are largely faceless (with the exception of Fred Von Lohmann) and take no heat when YouTube gets roasted alive by key opinion makers in the music business (such as Irving Azoff).

To see where this goes, we need only look to Pandora’s experiences with this kind of response to the Internet Radio Fairness Act of 2012.  Pandora is still digging out of that hole some four years later.

Four years later.

I seriously doubt that the day to day business people at Pandora wanted to go through this misstep, and the stockholders definitely did not.  IRFA sprang from the intellectual loins of Pandora’s “policy people” by all accounts, and the business people apparently didn’t really have much to say about it.

So how could we repair the problems with YouTube?  I think that it’s going to be a heavy lift, but it would start with Big Google telling their engineers and policy types to back off.    Then we’d at least have an idea of whether YouTube can ever be a good partner.  I suspect we could have at least much better relations with an independent YouTube.

Google may be willing to bet that they can outspend and out lobby the creative community.  I don’t know as I’d take that bet.  While the government has had their boot on the throat of creators in the form of compulsory licenses, consent decrees, and the very unpopular DMCA safe harbors, they can’t make creators happy about it.

YouTube should try to shake off the control of their internal masters at Google.  Then at least we’d know who we are dealing with.



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