Thursday, September 28, 2006

Video Distribution Unleashed: Trying to Tame Users in Control

There's quite a storm brewing over at YouTube these days centering on the recent interview of former U.S. President Bill Clinton by correspondent Chris Wallace on Fox News. A number of people on YouTube posted the entire interview on the user-generated video service, many copies of which have turned out to be quite popular - popular enough that Fox News has apparently asked for these full-length clips to be removed. Although this is a fairly common confrontation when copyrighted content gets posted in full on online video services this time it seems to have been perceived by some YouTube posters as censorship based on building rumors that News Corp. is preparing to buy YouTube (interesting rumor clip from YouTube covering a Fox executive speaking at a conference).

Judging by the attitudes of some of the YouTube posters such a takeover by NewsCorp may wind up leaving the cupboard bare of the community-builders that are at the heart of this video service. It highlights the ongoing struggle between traditional distribution schemes based on content licensing and the power of user-enabled distribution to enable content to meet audiences in the contexts that they find to be most valuable. Unlike other media, Web-based content services based on users in control of production and distribution vote with their clicks when services don't play by the rapidly developing unwritten Constitution of this online Content Nation. In the long run these confrontations are going to push premium content away from the most influential user-distributors that can help to build online brands.

As in the earlier confrontation between NBC and video sharing networks (our earlier coverage) Fox News is in bunker mode with its own video clip access: yet again, I cannot provide you with a link to the full-length clip on their site, it's wrapped up in layers of software that make it impossible to do this effectively. So if I can't send a link to someone else easily it only stands to reason that a service that makes this easier to do would be a popular alternative (NBC has learned since February, they're now much more aggressive in enabling their own clips for bookmarking and sharing).

In the highly democratic environment of Content Nation it's difficult to work against an audience that is willing to create content as aggressively as traditionally copyrighted sources. Many publishers and producers of premium content would love it if user-generated content resided in its own little ghetto, safely segregated from mainstream media content. But every indication that the Web has given us in more than a decade of use is that mainstream content benefits greatly from a well-designed program that allows it to rub shoulders with user-generated content - and that allows users to dictate its most valuable contexts. Publishers and media companies need to listen to these new online publishers and begin to negotiate a seat at the table that draws up the Constitution of Content Nation - before it's written without them.
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