YouTube, television’s new frenemy

FishbowlLA morning thought experiment: close your eyes and pretend you’re a television network. Now pretend that an upstart website is stealing your content and offering it to millions of viewers, thus depriving you of potential ad revenue. You’re angry, right? But wait– that same website is also offering your properties enormous publicity, potentially drawing new viewers. What do you do? Do you have your business affairs department shoot off threatening legal letters, or do you have your marketing department liaison with the website, offering content directly?

According to today’s THR, you may do both:

YouTube execs claim that these conflicting legal and promotional imperatives often unknowingly emanate from the same company.

“There’s been a few examples of marketing departments uploading content directly to the site, while on the other side of the company their attorney is demanding we remove this content,” YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley says.

FishbowlLA soapbox: If broadcast networks offer programming that appeals to audiences consistently, week after week, the promotional benefits of YouTube outweigh the intellectual property theft issues. (Of course, it would be nice to figure out how to pay residuals to talent for this sort of thing.) And if, for instance, NBC really thinks that YouTube broadcasting ‘Lazy Sunday’ will hurt broadcast viewership of ‘SNL,’ what they’re really saying is they don’t really have confidence in ‘SNL’s ability to pull in viewers week after week.

Of course, if the argument is that YouTube is depriving the television industry of potential income via paid downloads, that’s a more complicated issue. But unless the tv ad market really falls apart, that revenue is going to be a small slice of the TV pie for some time to come, despite its rapid growth.