miércoles, octubre 18, 2006

YouTube en las manos de Google

The Economist analiza las razones que llevaron a Google a pagar más de mil millones de dólares por YouTube. Más allá de ser el fetiche del momento -recibe 64 mil videos cada 24 horas y 50 millones de personas lo visitan diriamente-, la estrategia comercial de Page y Brin apunta a adquirir innovadoras -y pequeñas- compañías de computación y a sus rivales más agresivos, como en este caso. Para los medios el tema no es menor. No sólo porque Google es el mayor receptor de publicidad en la red, sino por los cambios que se aprecian en las audiencias y las nuevas formas para construir periodismo

The Economist
“CHAD and Steve remind me of Larry and Sergey,” said
Eric Schmidt, father figure and chief executive of
Google, on October 9th. Google, founded by Larry Page
and Sergey Brin, was announcing its purchase, for
$1.65 billion in shares, of YouTube, founded by Chad
Hurley and Steve Chen. Messrs Page and Brin created an
internet phenomenon with their search engine and
refuted conventional wisdom by proving that search
could make money when paired with advertising. During
the past year Messrs Hurley and Chen (pictured) have
created another phenomenon: a simple, fun website to
which anybody can upload video clips in order to share
them. Every day YouTube fans upload 65,000 videos and
watch 100m. Admittedly, YouTube has yet to prove that
advertising can make video clips as lucrative as
search results. But Google, too, only found a way to
“monetise” its service after it had become popular.
“This really reminds me of Google just a few years
ago,” said Mr Brin, to drive the point home.

With this deal, “two kings have gotten together,”
boasted Mr Hurley in a video clip on YouTube, with his
team in stitches over the grandiose language. But he
was not exaggerating. The stockmarket debut in 1995 of
Netscape, the first popular web browser, marked the
internet's first generation. The merger of “old media”
Time Warner and “new media” AOL, announced in 2000,
came to symbolise that era's excesses; and the
collapse in 2001 of Webvan, a notoriously hapless
dotcom, epitomised the bust. This week's pairing of
Google and YouTube may come to be remembered as the
moment “Web 2.0”—ie, the web, version two—came of age.

Until recently, however, the deal seemed unlikely.
Messrs Hurley and Chen said publicly that they were
not looking for a buyer because they wanted to remain
independent; privately, they had unflattering things
to say about Google and its rival clip-sharing site,
Google Video. For its part, Google made many small
acquisitions but professed not to be interested in big
ones. If anything, Messrs Page and Brin were becoming
concerned that Google already dabbled in too many
products beyond web search and risked confusing its

Both firms changed their minds. For YouTube, a sale
was logical. Like the dozens of other independent
video-sharing sites, it makes losses, incurs large
costs from storing and delivering all those videos,
and has no revenues to speak of. It is also walking a
legal tightrope because many clips violate copyright.
And its investors wanted a return on their money.

A sale to Google neatly solves most of these problems.
Google's vast and growing computer farms can store
information more cheaply than any other firm's. Its
main business of search-related advertising is so
profitable that it can afford to carry YouTube until
meaningful revenues appear. Google has the largest
online network of advertisers, whom it can now refer
to YouTube. It has armies of lawyers that can be
deployed to handle copyright suits. YouTube's founders
and investors will make a fortune. And Google has,
apparently, even agreed to allow YouTube to maintain
its separate identity.

For Google, the case for buying YouTube was less clear
at first. So far, Google has bought tiny technology
firms, often to annoy Microsoft, the software giant
that dominated the PC era and the first generation of
the web. This time, however, Google is buying a rival.
According to Hitwise, a market-research firm, YouTube
has four times as many visitors as Google Video;
according to comScore, another research outfit,
YouTube streams nine times as many clips as Google
Video. That Google is now prepared to buy, rather than
build, market leadership marks a big strategic change.

The deal is “an aggressive, mature move for Google,
one that shows that senior management is not too proud
or stubborn to see that they can't build everything
themselves,” says Henry Blodget, an analyst at Cherry
Hill Research. Indeed, Google's Mr Schmidt freely
conceded that YouTube is the “clear winner”,
especially in creating social networks around its

But Google also appears to be thinking a lot further
into the future. Its mission is “to organise the
world's information,” and a lot of information happens
to be in video form. Google's natural impulse is to
unleash its algorithms on this video content in order
to search it. But direct searching of pictures or
videos (as opposed to the words that people attach to
describe them) is much harder than indexing and
searching text. “Video search simply doesn't work,”
says Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester, a research
firm, so users have to “rely on the opinions, ratings,
and playlist compilations of others to discover good
video.” That means using social networks—precisely
YouTube's approach.

Together, Google and YouTube can also better address
the single biggest risk to both of them: lawsuits.
“Google lawyers will be a busy, busy bunch,” says Mark
Cuban, a blogger and billionaire since he sold
Broadcast.com, a web-radio firm, to Yahoo!, Google's
main rival as a portal site, in 1999. YouTube reminds
him of the early days of Napster, an internet service
that let users share pirated music. Like YouTube
today, says Mr Cuban, Napster said it would remove
pirated material at the request of any copyright
owner, thus seeking refuge in the “safe harbour”
clause of a 1998 copyright law. But Napster lost in
court and ceased to exist in its original form.

A combination of Google and YouTube may help in two
ways. First, the two companies are such a force in web
video that they ought to be able to strike partnership
deals with copyright owners who might otherwise sue
them. Hours before they made their deal public, both
Google and YouTube announced separate deals with music
studios and media companies that will make them, in
effect, distribution channels for those content
owners. Second, YouTube has been working hard on
“fingerprinting” technologies that would allow content
owners to trace their property as it migrates around
the web and to share any advertising revenues it
produces. But YouTube has not got very far. “Who is in
a better position to develop that technology—60
burnt-out people at YouTube or the legendary technical
minds at Google?” asks Forrester's Ms Li.

The main benefit of the deal, however, may be the
difficulties it creates for Google's rivals. Yahoo!
and Microsoft, as well as News Corporation and Viacom,
two media giants, all wanted YouTube. But Google
pre-empted them, just as it denied them access to AOL,
another portal, in which it bought a defensive stake
last winter. Microsoft now claims that it has decided
to build its own video-sharing business. But this
misses the point: YouTube's value to Google is not its
technology, but its audience and its brand, which no
amount of clever programming can duplicate. Meanwhile
Yahoo!, which has already lost out on several other
big deals, will now have to offer ever more desperate
prices for Facebook, a social-networking site it is
said to be interested in buying. Google's lead looks
bigger than ever.


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