Warner Records recently pulled all music videos by their bands off Youtube. Rumors are abound about a joint-venture music video website, created by the major record labels, much in the vein of what has been done for television shows with Hulu. For the sake of this essay I’m going to refer to this new site as “Mulu” (Music + Hulu)
This Mulu is a terrible idea and is doomed to fail. Here are 8 reasons why:
1 – Traffic.
Youtube has over 63,000,000 unique visitors a month. Hulu, the television equivalent of what the music industry intends to make, has slightly over 3,000,000. Hulu, by any account, has been a success yet it has less than 1/30th the traffic Youtube does. Even if the music video site achieves the success of Hulu, which I doubt it will, it will pale in comparison to the traffic of Youtube. Because the traffic will be so much less (even if wildly successful), videos are much less likely to go viral and they will have a much smaller potential reach.
2 – Lack Of Synergy
Mulu would presumably only have music videos and the content would be either entirely or overwhelmingly major label in origin. One of the reasons why Youtube is great is that it functions as a music discovery site. Because there is so much more on Youtube than just music videos and because the site is so sticky, many people come to Youtube for one thing and end up staying for some time, watching other, random videos. For example, you go on Youtube to find the Dramatic Chipmunk video and half an hour later you find yourself still on site, watching old Mission of Burma live videos. Because Youtube is so large and diverse, each video on the site adds value to every other video on the site. Mulu will not have this synergy and added value.
3 – The “Wikipedia Effect”
Youtube is fantastic because it is a decentralized, user driven site. Mulu will be a centralized site run by a few administrators. The net effect is that Mulu will have a less diverse selection of music and the videos that are up there will take longer to be posted than on Youtube. This is analogous to why Wikipedia is so much better than Encyclopedia Britannica. Because Wikipedia is the product of its users, it is updated far quicker and is far more wide-ranging than the Encyclopedia Britannica, even though Britannica has superior resources (money, intelligent people to write articles) than Wikipedia. A decentralized content creation system will always outperform a centralized one.
4 – Mulu Will Likely Be Poorly Designed And Overly Restrictive
If history teaches us anything, it’s that any website created or approved by the music industry will be poorly designed, hard to use, and overly restrictive. Technology is not what the music industry does and it’s not what it knows. When they delve into technology, it usually ends up being a mess.
5- Videos As A Promotional Tool, Not Income Stream
By creating Mulu, the record industry will be losing focus of their prime objective: to make a profit off music. The point of a music video is promotional. They are made to promote music; to spread awareness and to create a deeper connection with fans. Yes, music videos can be art themselves and yes, they are capable of generating revenue. But that is not their purpose nor should it be.
Record labels spend millions each year promoting their music, often giving great lip service to the need to create “viral” content. Music videos are the second most viral tool they have (the actual music being #1) and one of the most cost effective (compare the relative cost to reach of Ok Go’s Treadmill video to the cost of a TV or print ad campaign with a similar reach). Yet, here we have the record labels trying to restrict promotional/viral ability of these videos by removing them from the most viral website online. By focusing on maximizing revenue on something ancillary rather than using it to achieve higher overall revenues, the record labels are getting off course. That they were already were receiving money from Youtube, even if it wasn’t much, is fantastic. They were being paid to promote their bands. Why mess with that?
6 – Amateur Content?
Mulu will feature official music videos but what about amateur content? What about all the mash-ups, fan videos, amateur-shot live videos and fair-use remixing videos that make Youtube so entertaining? One of my all-time favorite videos is a fan video. Amateur content featuring Warner artists has been pulled down. Will it resurface at Mulu? Or is it done for good? As good of a promotional tool as official music videos are, amateur content is often better and more viral. A amateur-less Mulu would be a significantly diminished site.
7 – Hulu and Mulu Are Inherently Different
Hulu and Mulu are inherently different in a manner than significantly diminishes Mulu’s chances for success. Visitors to Hulu have a specific target; they are there to watch last week’s episode of The Office. There is not a whole lot of lateral movement; you come to the site with a purpose then you leave. You don’t spend your time finding new content. One of Youtube’s greatest strength is the cross pollination between videos. Consumers of streaming television shows (specific target) and streaming music videos (often non-specific and tangental) function differently. Fans often stumble upon music videos at Youtube, not actively seek them out. A large number of fans won’t even bother going to Mulu.
8 – Online Video Is More Than Just Youtube
Just because Warner has removed their videos off Youtube does not mean they have removed them from the internet. There are over 20 other video sites on the web, some of them with very significant traffic (DailyMotion, MetaCafe, Yahoo Video, Revver, and many others). If you can no longer post major label music to Youtube then it will be posted on these other sites. This will function to help these sites grow tremendously. It will be analogous to when Napster was shut down. Rather than removing the music from the internet, it caused it to relocate to other, less policeable areas of the web. The same thing will happen with music videos.
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