Copycats expected as NBC and News Corp. take on YouTube

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The alliance between NBC Universal and News Corp. to launch a video streaming Web site that competes with Google Inc.’s YouTube is likely to trigger a spate of “copycat” ventures, say Canadian media and telecommunications analysts.

Scheduled to be launched in third quarter of this year, the new site is expected to reach 65 million viewers every month, accounting for 96 per cent of U.S. unique online users on a monthly basis.

This massive viewer base will be achieved largely due to a promotion deal with AOL LLC, Microsoft Corp.’s MSN, MySpace and Yahoo Inc.

The partners will offer free viewing of TV episodes and support the business with advertising.

In contrast to YouTube’s largely amateur consumer generated content, NBC and News Corp. will be offering professionally produced video.

“I am sure plenty of others, such as Viacom and Disney, will come online soon, whether via partnerships or standalone plays,” said Kaan Yigit, president and new media analyst for Solutions Research Group, a consultancy firm headquartered in Toronto.

“We’re talking about a very significant amount of triple-A content becoming available online via Fox, NBC and partners.”

Does all this represent the beginning of the end for TV watching?

Absolutely not, says another analyst.

“Rumours of TV’s death are greatly exaggerated and premature,” said Carmi Levy, senior analyst for Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in London, Ont.

He said the media is going through an evolution but “Internet will not kill the TV star…yet.”

Yigit said the impact of the joint venture on Canada is still uncertain. “Rights holders for Fox, NBC and other partners would certainly be concerned if content becomes accessible without their [consent].”

He said chances are access from Canada would l be either limited or blocked. “In the absence of a similar Canadian broadband alternative, this move will only help the already booming pirated online TV content market grow stronger.”

Canadian networks, to some extent, have been porting their shows through the Internet already, according to Info-Tech’s Levy.

“Networks here, such as CTV and Global Television, have to a limited extent been allowing Internet users to view their recently aired programs,” he said.

These companies, Levy said, recognized the potential of using the Internet as an additional channel for their content. Their American counterparts, however, are doing the same in a more aggressive and expensive manner that is “bound to create a new ecosystem.”

“NBC and News Corp. want to give their content new life by porting it through another tube,” Levy said.

The new site “reflects what YouTube might want to be when it grows up,” Levy said, adding the new rival will contribute to the pressures Google is feeling with the recent lawsuit filed by Viacom.

“This will not kill YouTube, but it’s a signal to the site to evolve and develop a viable platform for copyrighted content.”

Yigit said user-generated content would remain YouTube’s strength “in the medium term.” He said the new entrants appear to be offering what was previously available on cable, and wondered how interaction with Net users plays out.

“They use the term ‘respect copyright’ in the release. This sounds like a euphemism for ‘you can’t do much with it’.”

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