Viacom vs. YouTube: The Billion Dollar Question

In the past couple days, the relationship between two distinctly different media giants has gone from bad to worse, as Viacom filed a $1 billion suit against YouTube for copyright infringement. This follows the company’s demand early last month that YouTube remove 130,000 videos of Viacom owned content. Come on Sumner Redstone, you make me change browser windows to watch Hamster Dance and "The Daily Show" and you think 6 months of "Laguna Beach" reruns are worth more than the economy of Monoco?

While the likelihood that Viacom will win the suit is up for debate, the online video space has had time to adapt to Viacom’s content exclusivity. Looking at the weeks before and after the event, two things are obvious: YouTube’s success doesn’t lie in Viacom’s copyrighted material, and the value of lost impressions at Viacom properties because of YouTube is nowhere near the value Viacom is seeking.

The chart below compares the amount of time spent per week at YouTube, the most popular Viacom properties, and the most popular user generated video sites that may still be hosting Viacom copyrighted material.

  • Despite lacking Viacom’s copyrighted content, YouTube has actually seen a 40% increase in the total time spent on the site since the announcement. Though partially due to Super Bowl related traffic, the sustained level of growth indicates a genuine growth in consumer attention.
  • Viacom properties received a lift in the week following the announcement, but have since declined back to pre announcement levels. This could be a result of the announcement driving awareness that Viacom even hosted content on demand.
  • Smaller video aggregator sites received a slight lift during the week of the announcement, but this could be related to the Super Bowl, as the steep drop in traffic in following weeks show.

The overlap between people visiting these various groups tells a similar tale. The chart below shows the percentage of YouTube Visitors who also visited popular Viacom properties.

  • If YouTube visitors were looking specifically for Viacom copyrighted material, YouTube should have lost this traffic once it was pulled (which it clearly didn’t).
  • The overlap between YouTube and Viacom property visitors experienced a slight lift in the week following Viacom’s request. This group would represent people who value Viacom’s content enough to actively seek it out, but also value YouTube for its wealth of content. This overlap has since fallen.

Viacom has every right to enforce ownership of it’s content. But the $1 Billion suit brought against YouTube is unwarranted. Visitor behavior to YouTube and Viacom properties indicate that people visit YouTube for it’s abundance of entertaining and educational content, regardless of who produces it. More importantly, people haven’t been using the site as a source of on-demand Viacom content, and they won’t make much effort to find that content through the official channel. YouTube’s real test will come if all large media companies follow suit.

For this analysis, sites included in the Viacom set include VH1.com, MTV.com, and Comedycentral.com. Sites in the Video Aggregator set included Bolt.com, Dailymotion.com, , Gofish.com, Grouper.com, Livevideo.com, and MetaCafe.com.

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