Viacom Vs. Google... Smells Like Shawn Fanning

Here we go again. The content kings beating up on the messenger. This time, however, I blame the lawyers.
Here we go again. The content kings beating up on the messenger. This time, however, I blame the lawyers.Google is staring down a billion dollar lawsuit from Viacom, which owns Comedy Central, MTV, Paramount Pictures and a few other properties. Viacom cries foul ... YouTube and Google are stealing the "fruit of our efforts." That is if by "fruit" you mean the extremely talented actors, producers, and directors that Viacom already has sucked millions from -- and by "our efforts," you mean the oppressive deals that Viacom lawyers have locked these production companies into.

Google's reply isn't much better. "We are confident that YouTube has respected the legal right of copyright holders and believe the courts will agree." Translation ... If Google can push off newspapers, university book publishers, and the Chinese, Viacom can trash talk all day long.

It wasn't even a month ago that the two sides were close to a distribution deal. After Viacom balked at the length of the segments that were popping up on YouTube, at least Google sent out warnings and half-hour shows were chopped down to five-minute chunks. So, what happened? Is it that somebody wasn't going to make enough money to vacation in Cancun this year? I don't think the advertisers are ready to hinge their retirements on YouTube revenue. So now here we are in perpetual litigation land.

We've been through this before. Twice. Shawn Fanning's Napster software was blasted to smithereens by the guys who distribute the Smithereens and their musical friends. Last year, Bit Torrent was headed toward the same path until the company signed its corporate deal.

Actually, I'm not sure why Viacom is even interested in slapping around YouTube at this point. Unlike its pre-Google days, YouTube's main page is a mishmash of anime, soccer clips, lonely women, and Renetto. Despite its 160,000 clip claim, you really have to dig hard to find the Viacom content that people haven't seen already.

Pre-Google days, YouTube was one of the best ways to find the Viacom content like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. At the time, Comedy Central's MotherLode video player was horrible. Segments were cut up randomly. The service was slow. Thankfully, they now have an auto-play feature on the site and minimal commercial interruption.

So perhaps the advice we can give to the lawyers is to relax. Sit back with a few beers and enjoy March Madness. You'll be seeing clips on YouTube starting this week anyhow. When you sober up, go back to the drawing board and work out a cleaner deal with Google.

And while you're at it, take a look at some other distribution models (Disney/ABC, GE/NBC) that stream their shows in their entirety on demand -- with commercials. If viewers want to do re-cap shows and substitute Nine-Inch Nails as a soundtrack to Sponge Bob, let them.

There's no use trying to get television-sized ad revenue out of Google or most any other Web site out there. These are the days of the long tail. And if Viacom isn't careful, this one could whip them back in the face.

Your thoughts, Renetto?

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