The Man

Hosted by

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

It turns out that Viacom is suing YouTube, which isn't really much of a surprise. Viacom will eventually sue us all, for something. That's kind of how they do business. Here's how it went down:

YouTube, the video sharing site that sold itself to Google recently for about $1.6 billion, has been allowing users to put up a lot of video content owned by Viacom. Things like Daily Show clips, that sort of thing. Now, no one really cared all that much--or at least, not enough to file papers--before the Google sale. But when $1.6 billion changes hands, people in the 310 and 212 area codes suddenly notice.

"Hey! Money!" shouted the Big Old Media companies. At which point it was just a matter of time until the parties either started exchanging money on an agreed-upon basis, or started exchanging file boxes of discovery documents.

Look, as much as I like YouTube, it's also pretty clear that it's a business built, primarily, on Daily Show clips, Saturday Night Live videos, and highlights from last night's American Idol. Sure, there are some interesting and talented amateurs. And some Chinese guys lipsynching. And some Mentos. And some Diet Coke. But the draw of the site--the regular, reliable traffic generator--was the availability of segmented little video snacks from broadcast, network television.

Expensive to produce broadcast network television. Copyright protected broadcast network television. So it was entirely predictable that these parties would eventually clash, and if they didn't come to terms, would end up in court. This really isn't a case, as some people have suggested, of New Media versus Old Media, or copyright protection, or really anything lofty and principled. It's a case of the two of us agree that you owe me money, but we don't agree on how much, so see you in court. The weird thing is, for two companies engaged in a pretty heavy-duty lawsuit--I think the damages are into the billions--Google and Viacom agree on an awful lot. Except, you know, the actual amount. Funny side point: YouTube's revenues last year were somewhere around $15 million, which, to put in perspective, is about half of what CBS, a subsidiary of Viacom, will pay to make a dozen one-hour pilots this year, of which maybe three will get ordered, and of those maybe one will be a moderate success. So we're talking about a billion-dollar lawsuit for a million-dollar company. Why didn't I go to law school?

Had the guys at Google, taken the words "Viacom" and "Sumner Redstone" and "lawsuit" and, oh, I don't know, Googled them, they would have seen pretty clearly what the preferred negotiating strategy of that company was going to be. Normally, I like it when somebody new and innovative and disruptive takes on the big guys. I like it when a feisty entrepreneur takes on the man.

Except that in this case, actually, I'm the man. Well, one of the men. Getting paid for my material is sort of, you know, what I do. So while I'm sympathetic, up to a point, with the YouTube growth strategy, and while I agree that Old Media is a lumbering, slow-to-change manatee following a leaky, sinking business model, I'm not so sure I want all of this to change too quickly, or at least before I can figure out some other way to make the lease payments on my ="5 Series.

This new media world should be--in theory--a paradise for writers--excuse me, for content creators--because it provides--in theory--a lot of new places to show our stuff. I mean, in a way, we've all suddenly acquired the ability to become little YouTubes of our own.

So maybe I should just get this over with and file a lawsuit against myself. Talk about a discovery process.

Well, that's it for this week. Next week, we'll get back to work. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long