New NBC Universal Chief Takes Hard Line on YouTube

The day of his coronation as the new CEO of NBC Universal, replacing long-time executive and GE appointee Robert Wright, Jeff Zucker wasted no time taking a stand against YouTube, taking the video sharing site and NBCU partner to task for failing to implement copyright protections.

The public statement, along with the new division of labor in his organization in addition to comments made for The New York Times this morning, are fueling speculation that Zucker's company may be planning to expand its own experiment in video sharing, perhaps becoming a competitor to YouTube.

This morning's Financial Times quotes Zucker as saying, "YouTube needs to prove that it will implement its filtering technology across its online platform. It's proven it can do it when it wants to...They have the capability. The question is whether they have the will."

Last June, prior to the Google acquisition, YouTube and NBCU reached a promotional agreement that would enable selected content from NBC Television to appear on YouTube. In exchange, statements from NBCU made it clear that it would hold YouTube to its promise to implement copyright controls on its content.

In September, YouTube issued a promise to meet NBCU's requests within just a few months. "By the end of the year," a company statement read, "professional content creators, including record labels, TV networks and movie studios, will have the opportunity to authorize the use of their content within the YouTube community by taking advantage of YouTube's new tools and architecture. YouTube has been actively working on the operational details and building the infrastructure for this innovative new framework."

That infrastructure would include, YouTube said, tools that would help content owners identify improperly posted content belonging to them, as well as monetization tools that would enable content partners to sell videos through YouTube. Just after that statement was issued, a similar promotional deal was reached between YouTube and CBS.

But with a new boss at the helm of NBCU, it's clear that the company may be calling YouTube's bet. Frustration with clips from both NBC Television and Universal Studios appearing outside NBCU's promotional envelope has reached the boiling point. Last December, NBCU was among the parties negotiating with Viacom, CBS, and Fox Interactive over the possibility of their setting up a joint YouTube competitor, but those talks were broken off maybe before they officially began, leaving the rivals to boil over in private.

So in the wake of last Friday's Viacom demand for YouTube to remove clips from MTV Networks programming, the race appears on to lead the chorus against copyright-free video sharing, with Jeff Zucker having surged into the lead on his first day out of the gate.

Up until yesterday, Zucker led the NBC Universal Television Group, responsible for producing not just NBC programming but Universal-branded shows that appear elsewhere, including other broadcast and cable networks. On the side, his job was to oversee the coordination of NBCU's digital media efforts.

But with Zucker's promotion, there won't be one person filling his vacancy. The people responsible for digital services who formerly reported to Zucker are being reassigned, and it isn't clear even today how Zucker's new organization will be arranged.

However, the impending reorganization makes feasible an entirely new and elevated interactive services division, similar to Fox Interactive - parent company of MySpace - reporting directly to Zucker, who in turn reports directly to parent company GE's CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

Even if the media giants end up going it alone, they still face a key problem: They could peddle reruns of The Biggest Loser and Deal or No Deal to anyone who'd put up two bucks to see them in glorious low-definition. But YouTube would still be there, this time without as much incentive to build content controls as they had the year before, except for the looming threat of legal action. And since YouTube's parent is now Google, that threat may not be proportionately as dire as it was the year before, either.

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