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The Digital Honeymoon Is Over

18 Mar, 2007 By: Stephanie Prange

In the love-hate relationship between user-generated video sites and the studios, the honeymoon seems to be over.

Viacom's lawsuit over its content posted on Google-owned YouTube may be just the first big shot across the bow in the war over digital video distribution.

The studios have been mostly friendly — even effusive — in praise for the growing digital-distribution market. They've offered their product on the same day as the DVD release; they've offered TV product with and without commercials; they've offered catalog hits; and they've offered titles to their former enemies, the peer-to-peer file-sharing sites.

But now the gloves seem to have come off.

While Viacom is taking the lead in the suit, after months of careful research on just how many infringing videos are being posted on YouTube, all of the studios are no doubt watching in anticipation.

The cautionary tale of the music business, which was woefully late in addressing the threat and opportunity of the digital-delivery world, has informed the Viacom suit and studio actions.

The content suppliers have caught onto the tech line and are now ready to take on the Internet wunderkinds.

While the user-generated sites and other tech supporters have extolled the virtues of various home movies and other user-generated content on their site, the real driver may have been good old studio content — high-quality, high-cost and packed with talent.

If home movies were what everyone wanted to watch, “America's Funniest Home Videos” would be the hottest show of all time, and I'd be happy watching my uncle's trip to Greece every night instead of “South Park.”

Content is king — and good content is costly. Viacom pays the writers and performers on “The Daily Show” and “SpongeBob SquarePants” for their talent, and I doubt they'd be willing to work for free — which is exactly what would have to happen if YouTube could disseminate any video it wanted.

While I'm all for fair use, I don't believe in free. Unless talent is paid, all content will suffer.

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