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You Tube if you want to

December 2009


If you want any evidence of why the Internet is proving to be the nemesis of the commercial television companies, you need look no further than the viewing habits of  any under 30 year old.

You will find that they very rarely watch live television, but, paradoxically, they spend at least as much time in front of a screen being entertained than they would have done twenty years ago.  The difference is that they are watching their laptops , not the television.

The cause of all the anguish in the TV company boardrooms is largely YouTube, and if you have not got to grips with it yet, you probably should, even if it’s only so that you will understand why the commercial TV channels are fading away like old episodes of Z Cars.

YouTube ( was created in 2005, in a room above a restaurant in California, by three chaps who had just left the online payment system PayPal.  Less than two years later, they sold it to Google for $1.6 billion; that’s what I call growth.

Like most successful businesses, it is a pretty simple idea.  It is just a website, which acts as a place anyone can, and may, upload short films (maximum 10 minutes).  Those films can then be watched by anyone who can find them, or who is directed to them.  It costs nothing to use, and makes money by selling the advertising that surrounds the film clips, and sometimes pops up in front of them.

The reason this has become so troublesome to TV companies is that the millions of people who use it quickly realised that as well as their own films they could upload anything recorded from television, or copied from a DVD.  Millions of other people then realised that they were now able to watch their favourite comedian, or TV programme, whenever they wanted, for nothing.

True, it comes in 10 minute bursts, but that’s fine –whilst you might not want to watch Gone with the Wind in that form, it is not difficult to watch Fawlty Towers in three chunks, or your favourite Morcambe and Wise sketches, all of which will fit comfortably into the ten minutes anyway.

As a consequence, a whole generation is now using this method to receive their visual entertainment, and only switch on the TV for live sports events and the like.

Who can blame them?  Why sit through half an hour of rubbish on TV, at a time dictated by someone else, waiting for a good bit, being attacked by loud advertising in the mean time, when you can go straight to the meat of the thing on YouTube, exactly when and where you want?

The unresolved problem, however, is copyright.  YouTube itself warns sternly that we should not upload anything to which we do not own the copyright, but this rule is totally ignored.

For example, I don’t know who owns the copyright to a 1991 documentary about Private Eye (featuring our own fine Editor) but I bet it isn’t the person who uploaded it to YouTube in five easy chunks (Click here).  I further bet that no one receives a penny from anyone for this display, which is available to show again and again all over the world.

So there is the paradox; YouTube is a huge success because it gives the people what they want – but at the expense of those who create what is wanted by the people   I’m not sure how it will all end; in the courts, probably.  For now, try and see if you can find a clip of your favourite singer or comedian and revive a memory or two.