Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How the YouTube-Warner Music Deal Got Done: Meet Vevo Jr.

green_day_Warner Music and YouTube, co-owners of the one of the Web’s nastiest spats, are about to patch things up. How’d they do it? By cutting a deal that looks a lot like the one YouTube has already made with Universal Music Group.

Last December, talks between Warner and YouTube to renew a licensing deal broke down, and Warner’s videos disappeared from the world’s largest video site. Now, as Advertising Age has reported, an agreement is in the works that will bring Green Day, Madonna and their label-mates back to the site.

What hasn’t been reported, so far: The deal terms themselves. Neither company is talking, but sources familiar with the negotiations tell me the new pact will be similar to the one Google’s (GOOG) video unit struck earlier this year with Universal Music Group.

That deal created Vevo, a sort of “Hulu for music videos,” owned by Universal and Sony (SNE). So think of Warner’s deal as a “son of Vevo.”

The big idea is the same: Try to create more value for videos by limiting their distribution and creating a more ad-friendly atmosphere around them, and share ad revenue between YouTube and the videos’ owner. The big points:

  • Unlike Vevo, Warner and YouTube won’t be creating a separate site for Warner videos, and Warner won’t be creating a separate company dedicated to its videos. Instead, YouTube will help Warner create a “premium advertising platform” for its videos within YouTube.
  • Warner will take primary responsibility for selling its videos, and YouTube will receive a cut of the revenue.
  • Warner will no longer receive a licensing fee each time one of its videos is played.

I gather that a lot of this is still being hashed out, and some of this will evolve even after the deal is inked. For instance, Warner needs to figure out how it’s going to sell advertising for its clips, since it doesn’t have its own sales force. Timing is also up in the air: Even after the two sides formally announce the pact, users shouldn’t expect to see Warner videos instantly reappearing on YouTube; it may be that they only get rolled out as the new ad platform is built.

Then there’s the ad platform itself: I haven’t been able to get a concrete definition of what this is supposed to look like, but for now, I’m imagining something like the “channels” YouTube has made for partners like ESPN, except they’d be made on an artist-by-artist basis.

All in all, this sounds like a fair deal. Warner loses a guaranteed revenue stream, but if its contention about the value of its videos is correct, it will make even more than it did under the old arrangement. Meanwhile, YouTube gets to hang onto “premium” inventory without being locked into the kind of  pay-per-play arrangement that helped drive the site’s expenses sky-high.

The potential downside for YouTube: If this works–or if the Vevo deal works–it will have to create similar packages/portals/platforms to retain or attract other “premium” content suppliers, like, say Hollywood studios. But given that the site has had limited success getting those guys on board so far, that’s not the worst fate in the world.

In the meantime, even though Green Day is Warner act, you can still find plenty of its clips on YouTube–it’s just that most of them are odds and ends like this grainy concert video:


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus