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Viacom vs. Google: Who’s The Daddy?

The key question in the Viacom v. GooTube war is who-needs-whom more?  The best way to answer this question is to study the percentage of “views” on YouTube that consist of Viacom (and other big media) content.  If the percentage is low, Viacom’s hardball tactics will fail.  If the percentage is high, Google will probably have to make some major concessions.

Importantly, the critical fact here is not the percentage of clips posted, but the percentage of clips viewed.  If Big Media content accounts for only 5% of the clips, but 95% of the views, then Google will need to have its attitude adjusted.

The first data point suggesting that Big Media content does NOT account for anywhere near this percentage of views is that the folks at Google know exactly what the numbers are…and they are not morons.  If YouTube really needed Viacom’s content, the GooTube folks would presumably be down in LA sucking up to Sumner and his fish.  Instead, they’re acting the way someone holding a full-house does when bullied by a guy with three-of-a-kind.  (And remember: Google knows exactly what hand Viacom is holding; Viacom, meanwhile, is just guessing).  Is Google bluffing?  Could be.  But I think this is unlikely.

Second, Google has already struck distribution deals with several other big media companies and hundreds of small ones.  Big Media’s best chance to create a command-and-control Internet media economy is to unite.  But Google has already done an excellent job of fragmenting the opposition.

Third, although I haven’t yet seen detailed YouTube stream data (again, I’d be grateful if someone would pass it along), at least one external data source suggests that the Big Media percentage of online video views is nowhere near as high as many observers think.  A company called VidMeter tracks the top videos across all the top sites and presents the results on both a “daily” and “all time” basis.  Based on a quick analysis of the top-200 all-time videos, I think it’s likely that Viacom’s content may actually represent a very small percentage of YouTube clips viewed.

One problem with such analyses (and with online video clips in general) is that it’s often difficult to tell who owns the copyright of a particular clip, and because I don’t spend much time getting familiar with Viacom content, I may be under-counting.  So let me say up front that my count is very much a back-of-the-envelope estimate and that, for all I know, VidMeter’s methodology and counts are wildly inaccurate.  Please feel free to peruse the list yourself and weigh in.

VidMeter’s Top 200 all-time videos range from the “Evolution of Dance,” which has been viewed 54 million times, to an Anna Nicole Smith clip viewed 3 million times.  Of these Top 200, I did not see so much as a single clip that I was certain was Viacom content.  (The only Jon Stewart clip in the top 200 was his appearance on Crossfire, which I assume is Time Warner content).

I saw plenty of music videos and movie trailers, which I hope the copyright owners aren’t dumb enough to lock behind a license agreement, and I saw plenty of talking cats, lonelygirl-wannabes, and other predictable stuff.  I saw some FOX clips.  I saw a lot of mash-ups, which I assume (hope) are legal.  I saw a lot of stuff that obviously originated on TV and may or may not be licensed.   In short, I’m sure there’s some Viacom content on that list, but if so, it didn’t jump out at me.

The upshot?  Based on a scan of the VidMeter list, I see nothing to change my opinion that, in this negotiation, Google is the Daddy.

Thanks to Niki Scevak of Homethinking for suggesting Vidmeter.

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