If you're like millions of Americans, you spend countless hours watching user-generated videos on YouTube. But the site is no longer just for voyeuristic videos of people embarrassing themselves; the self-proclaimed "biggest news platform in the world" is partnering with local news outlets on its News Near You section in the hopes of producing some ad revenue.
While wildly popular, Google-owned YouTube has had trouble establishing a profitable business model. Because it cannot place ads on content created by amateurs due to copyright concerns, and because it is made up almost completely of user-generated content, the site has not been able to come up with a truly viable money-making proposition. This spring, YouTube started News Near You, which automatically feeds its visitors videos that come from sites within 100 miles of their computers' IP addresses. "They're trying to find aggregation schemes ... that can collect regular enough audiences that they can attract a higher level of advertising," says industry analyst John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, Inc.
The Google News blog (http://googlenewsblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/call-to-news-publishers-how-to-share.html) posted "A Call to News Publishers" on June 28, inviting sites to apply to become partners with YouTube. The post says that the benefits for partners are featured premium placement, lower costs and additional revenue, viewership analysis, a wider audience, and a community. The blog explains, "YouTube news partners receive featured placement on the YouTube news page, youtube.com/news, where we feature news videos from partners related to the top news stories on Google News. In addition, if you allow your videos to be embedded, they'll be eligible to appear on Google News, which means additional exposure to all Google News users."
According to the post, partners can also get free video hosting and analytics; it also states, "you can maintain your brand's look-and-feel with your own customized YouTube channel, and you can also drive traffic back to your own website." If a site is accepted as a YouTube partner, "The Google News team will do a separate review and follow-up about including your videos in Google News."
As The New York Times' Brian Stelter put it, "In time, [News Near You] could essentially engineer a local newscast on the fly." Though, for now, it would seem the network of partners is still too limited and nontraditional to put together a real newscast. Despite having invited more than 25,000 Google News sources to join the project, YouTube has reportedly partnered with only about 200 outlets-few of which have been traditional television broadcasters. Blossom explains that newspapers and bloggers have more readily taken YouTube up on its partnership because, for them, video is not their bread and butter but simply another way to drive traffic to their print product and websites.
As a result of the lack of participating television news sources, when I visited News Near You, my Connecticut-based IP address got me a list of New York-based videos-most of which came from the New York Post-including videos about the Jets training camp and former Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Kattan-hardly my local news. Blossom thinks this could be a result of "being in the shadow of a major market." He adds that the vacuum created by a lack of video sources could be a good thing for bloggers and, he says, could "stimulate some thinking from local community publishers."
The same sources partnering with YouTube are the ones often complaining about Google News using the work of print journalists without permission by aggregating it in one place. Blossom says, "Audiences are attracted increasingly to agnostic sources of content aggregated on the web. ... Televisions news has been isolated from this trend."
Stacey Woelfel, chairman of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, is watching the News Near You feature with an interested but skeptical eye. "While the news near you concept is a great one in terms of convenience ... I need to watch as it gets rolled out, to see what gets labeled as news," he says. As bloggers and citizen journalists get on board, he says he will be looking for content that "is opinion or is not well-researched that might have the look of news."
Woelfel, in some ways, agrees with Blossom's assessment, saying that because television news shows have owned and controlled the over-the-air signals of their shows for so long, they have been somewhat insulated when it comes to finding their content being used and monetized by web companies. Still, with the economic decline, Woelfel says local news broadcasts have been hit hard as big advertisers such as car dealerships and furniture stores have gone out of business. "Some of that advertising may not come back. ... One of the things stations are trying to do is get new advertisers that haven't been on television before," says Woelfel. Certainly, a chance to create revenue through online advertising wouldn't be scoffed at. That being said, most reports agree that YouTube has more to gain monetarily than the news providers do.
Blossom calls partnerships with News Near You "a potential threat to [television news'] advertising opportunities." If advertisers see that they can move to the web to sponsor the same content for less money, that could worsen an already dismal ad market for local news outlets.
As news directors and local stations across the country continue to wrestle with whether or not to partner with YouTube, Woelfel says it could bring to a head a long-standing difference of opinion in the community. Many news outlets used to controlling the broadcast signal believe that providing video for free on the web is a bad idea. Meanwhile, others say, "We provide it freely by broadcast and we should provide it freely on other platforms." Woelfel says it is still too soon to tell which side will win out, but he says he and his colleagues will be keeping a careful eye on News Near You to make an informed decision about whether the initiative will be a competitor or become a partner.