Can YouTube Survive?

The Economist wonders if YouTube can make money:

“STARBUCKS has comfy chairs, but they don’t charge people for sitting in them,” says Tom McInerney, the boss and co-founder of Guba, an internet-video company. Instead, he explains, Starbucks provides a comfortable environment, at considerable expense, so that people will buy overpriced coffee. That, in essence, is the business model being pursued by websites that host “user-generated content” such as personal blogs, photographs and today’s craze, amateur videos, which can be uploaded and watched on sites such as YouTube, Google Video, MySpace, Guba, Veoh and Metacafe. By offering a setting for free interaction, such sites provide the online equivalent of comfy chairs. The trouble is that, so far, there is no equivalent of the overpriced coffee that brings in the money and pays the bills.

That is why people like Chad Hurley and Steven Chen (pictured), the co-founders of YouTube, the clear leader of the pack by audience size, are casting around for a business model. Aware that inserting advertisements at the beginning of video clips, as some sites do, is annoying and risks driving away YouTube’s users, Mr Hurley and Mr Chen have announced two experiments with advertising, with the promise of more to come. One idea is for “brand channels” in which corporate customers create pages for their own promotional clips. Warner Brothers Records, a music label, led the way, setting up a page to promote a new album by Paris Hilton. The second experiment is “participatory video ads”, whereby advertisements can be uploaded and then rated, shared and tagged just like amateur clips. This “encourages engagement and participation,” the company declares.

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