Monday, March 5, 2007

Google's YouTube strikes deal with BBC

The British Broadcasting Corporation, the world's oldest public service broadcaster, has chosen to embrace modern technology as it announced its partnership with YouTube, the video-sharing Web site acquired by Google. With the new deal between the BBC and YouTube, three new branded channels, one for news and two for entertainment, will be created to air clips of BBC programs. With the deal struck between the BBC and YouTube, Internet users around the world will be able to view BBC content in a way never before offered by the British broadcaster.

The non-exclusive partnership between Google's YouTube and the BBC will offer the three so-called "channels" under separate BBC and BBC Worldwide agreements. With the partnership bringing the BBC into the online video marketplace, Digital Spy has reported the BBC is proposing the possibility of a new BBC iPlayer service. As well, the BBC hopes to drive more Internet traffic to their official Web site, where print news is still the medium of choice. Mark Thompson, the BBC director-general, told reporters, "This ground-breaking partnership between the BBC and YouTube is fantastic news for our audiences. YouTube is a key gateway through which to engage new audiences in the UK and abroad."

With an estimated 70 million viewers each month, there is no question about YouTube's ability to offer a gateway to the rest of the Internet. The three channels offered by the BBC will feature significantly different content, appealing to a wide variety of users. One channel, "BBC Worldwide", will showcase clips from popular BBC programs such as Top Gear, the spy drama Spooks, and a series of nature documentaries presented by David Attenborough. While BBC Worldwide will feature some amount of advertising, the other entertainment channel to be launched, "BBC", will showcase clips and shorter features relating to BBC series. For instance, specially-created video diaries will feature Doctor Who star David Tennant and actress Freema Agyeman as they guide viewers around the set of the popular BBC series. As well, other programming on the second entertainment channel will showcase John Simm of Life on Mars as he "goes back through time", and Clive Myrie will document the streets in the red zone of Baghdad. "BBC" will be a commercial-free channel.

The third and final channel, "BBC World", will be the BBC's international commercial television channel. "BBC World" will features roughly 30 news clips each day, offering up to the minute news and analysis from around the world in the same format offered by traditional BBC broadcasts. As well, the advertising-funded clips will only be made available to YouTube users outside of the UK region. In much the same way YouTube users can already comment on clips, rate the stories, recommend them to friends and post their own responses, BBC World will allow a healthy amount of interaction from the users who view the clips.

Mark Thompson, BBC director-general, also told reporters that, "The partnership provides both a creative outlet for a range of short-form content from BBC programme makers and the opportunity to learn about new forms of audience behaviour. It's essential that the BBC embraces new ways of reaching wider audiences with non-exclusive partnerships such as these."

However, as the BBC News pointed out Friday morning, the deal leaves certain questions about the BBC's status as a public broadcaster. As the BBC will showcase commercials on the channels offered in the UK, it will be the first time in the broadcaster's history that they have run advertisements in their programing. BBC News wrote that "The deal is likely to be controversial with other media companies who have accused the BBC of straying from its licence-fee funded public service remit and moving too far into commercial web ventures."

While the BBC struggles with the potential conflict of interest, Eric Schmidt, CEO and chairman of YouTube, was quoted by Playfuls as saying, "We're delighted to be joining forces with the BBC to bring the best TV programming available to the YouTube and community. We will continue to invest in our platforms and technologies to help our partners make the most of the enormous opportunities presented by the billion people now online." Those sentiments were echoed by YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, who said, "We're constantly looking for innovative ways to bring the best content to our community. The BBC is a premier source for quality programming, and we're excited that they are leading the way in enabling two-way dialogue and real engagement with an entirely new audience. We hope to open up an entirely new audience for their content, while deepening their relationship with their existing viewers."

Recently, YouTube has come under fire from Viacom, the parent company of Comedy Central, Fox, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks, MTV Films, MTV, MTV2, VH1, BET and Spike TV, who demanded that YouTube remove all clips from their video-sharing site, stating they are pirated. On the other hand, companies like CBS, NBC and Fox, already have similar content-sharing agreements in place with YouTube, which was purchased by Google in 2006 for $1.65 billion in Google stock.