Discontented 

15 September 2008 tbs.pm/941

Michael Grade: YouTube is a ‘parasite’

It’s fairly easy to tell from Michael Grade’s comments that he is still firmly rooted in the media ‘old school’, since he (and ITV plc) still appear to remain very fixed to the concepts of traditional television despite indulging in video-on-demand and other modern necessities. (And despite reassurances to the contrary that seem targeted at shareholders.)

And talking of old school, the one fairly significant new media property that ITV owns – namely Friends Reunited – suffered whilst a traditional ‘pay’ model was pursued for that particular venture, but you had to be determined to actually discover whether or not your old classmate is now a millionaire or even whether they want to speak to you again.

Friends Reunited still has a moderate presence in the world of social networking but Myspace, Facebook and Bebo etc. came along to show that there’s nothing more popular than free to the end user.

But it’s YouTube that ITV still seems to fail to understand properly, and it all revolves around the concept of exploiting and ‘protecting’ intellectual property. Like the BBC, ITV is moderately tolerant of clips taken from old programmes being uploaded to video sharing sites, but seems to be less tolerant of clips from current productions being re-used.

Regardless of the legal aspects, it all depends on whether these clips actually ‘damage’ the commercial exploitability of the programme(s) in question, and there’s the whole murky world of rights issues to wade through (although modern productions now simultaneously exist alongside new media).

Plus if you happen to have something that might entice potential viewers that hardly touch the ‘3’ button on their remote control (such as sci-fi drama Primeval), then you really need all the new media exposure that you can get; a poster campaign can only take a promotional push so far and isn’t that targeted by comparison.

Perhaps the key issue here is that the majority of ITV’s programmes still survive well enough without new media exposure, since Coronation Street and Emmerdale are sufficiently well-established to keep going as well as the ITV channels still having enough mass market audience pull to keep things like The X Factor ticking over nicely.

Indeed it’s the historical reputation of UK television that has assisted in keeping mass market commercial television viable in recent years, even despite numerous attempts to (arguably) ‘self-harm’ this reputation with an excessive quantity of populist programming and recent premium-rate interactivity scandals involving quiz shows and the like.

For example, the previous existence of ITV Play hasn’t harmed the viewing figures for Emmerdale, but witness the continuing struggle that ITV has had in relation to attracting viewers to its recently re-introduced News At Ten despite actually being a rather credible news bulletin in its own right.

It’s true enough that without the commercial revenue that ITV still manages to draw in, there wouldn’t be the funding to make Coronation Street, Primeval or even The Alan Titchmarsh Show, and ITV plc spends 90% of its programming budget on its peaktime programming; all of which you simply can’t get on YouTube.

However YouTube does also offer a “many-to-many” relationship with its audience as opposed to the “one-to-many” that a traditional broadcaster offers; anyone can upload a video clip to YouTube and as long as it doesn’t break certain rules then it can be enjoyed or loathed by potentially a much wider audience.

Perhaps it’s the uncertainty of the likes of YouTube that is the most disconcerting for commercial broadcasters, but ITV and others need to maintain a sense of commercial perspective; such a thing also seems lacking at Viacom who is currently attempting a copyright lawsuit against YouTube, although this action is now fairly likely to fail.

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