NewsCorpNBCYahooMSNMySpaceAOLTube vs. GooTube

NBC and News Corp announced a broad-reaching partnership this week that will feature shows from NBC and Fox on AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo! — all the major Internet players except Google, the owner of YouTube.

The major television networks already offer shows on their respective Web sites. Their big challenges to date have been distribution and product.

Despite all the on-air promotion, people don’t go to the network Web sites. YouTube had 34.4 million unique visitors in February 2007, according to comScore. NBC sites had 6.8 million and Fox had 2.8 million. The combined reach of the 4 major networks is 17.9 million, about half of YouTube’s.

The press release claims that the distribution deal will let them reach 96% of Internet households. That’s an extremely optimistic figure, dependent on thoroughly penetrating each online network. Most internal products at companies like AOL and Yahoo! can’t fully penetrate their own network; it’s unlikely that a third party offering will. Still, it’s a huge boost.

The networks have many of the assets they need to deliver a compelling product — one much better than YouTube for copyrighted content. But I wouldn’t bet on it. And  I wouldn’t hold my breath on NBC and News Corp. making the summer launch date.

Here is how I expect the final product to stack up against YouTube on six important dimensions:

  • Completeness – Tie
  • Timeliness – Tie
  • Quality – Networks
  • Usability – YouTube
  • Sharability – YouTube
  • Community – Possibly networks, likely YouTube

(details after the break)

Missing from the announcement was any tie up with Apple. Delivering high quality programs free to the recently released Apple TV could be a huge win. But the affiliates and cable companies won’t like that very much. And the Internet might grind to a halt.

Completeness. Tie. YouTube has more content today, but whether a show appears or not is up to the whims of uploaders — and the takedown efforts of the content owners. You might get a few minutes of tonight’s episode, nothing of tomorrow’s. NBC and News Corp. can guarantee complete episodes on a consistent basis of the shows they own. The networks sometimes don’t own the shows they air; as a result, they won’t include shows that might be available on YouTube. (They are sourcing more of their shows from their own studios these days, so that’s less and less an issue.) The networks also have an annoying tendency to remove shows quickly.

Timeliness. Tie. Many clips are posted on YouTube minutes after the show airs. The networks will likely wait until after the West Coast feed airs; close enough.

Quality. Networks. They have the masters and can offer the highest quality and most consistent video. You won’t get videos created by someone pointing a video camera at their TV screen or using an extremely lossy codec. And you won’t have to dig through 15 copies of essentially the same video.

Usability. YouTube. Google has trained people to type into a box and get an answer. YouTube does this very well. By contrast, finding a video clip on the network sites usually involves digging through eight layers of menus. See my comparison of trying to find the same clip on YouTube vs. Comedy Central’s Web site. I expect that the NBC/News Corp product will have the same kind of bloat.

Sharability. YouTube. Trying to share something you find with others on the network sites is hard. In some cases, the only way to do this is to tell your friends to navigate the eight-step path. In other cases you have to click a “Share this” link and give up your friend’s email. The ease of sharing and embedding videos is a big part of what has made YouTube what it is. The networks need to make sharing as easy it is with YouTube – URLs in obvious places, EMBED code right on the page. Ideally, they’d let you edit the clip with a visual editor that lets you pick start and stop points. You could share a specific joke from The Tonight Show. OK, I’m dreaming. That won’t happen.

Community. Possibly networks, likely YouTube. YouTube unquestionably has the upper hand in community today. But the networks could leverage star power to build stronger communities on shows by having chats and message boards with stars and producers, on air promotion of user comments, etc. See my post on Steven Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge.

Disclaimer: As with all posts where I talk about AOL, these views are solely my own and do not reflect company policy.


About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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