Peter Kafka

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Viacom’s YouTube Strategy: Replay “The Godfather”

Another fun (but admittedly irrelevant) nugget from the YouTube-Viacom documents: Tom Dooley, Viacom’s No. 2, advising CEO Philippe Dauman on the best way to negotiate with Google, via a November 2006 email. Guide to players follows:

I think we should cut off the heads of Adam, Michael (and perhaps Judy) and send them to Eric in a box wrapped in a printed copy of their latest term sheet. With a note that says “Before you respond–Remember our heritage–we are the people that brought you the Godfather.”

Dooley is referring to Adam Cahan, who was then an MTV Networks executive vice president; Michael Wolf, then MTVN’s COO; and Judy McGrath, who remains MTVN’s CEO. (And Google CEO Eric Schmidt, of course).

Yes, Dooley’s joking. I think he’s also confusing Jack Woltz with Luca Brasi, but whatever. He’s an MBA, not a cineaste.

But YouTube was a big deal for Viacom (VIA). Here’s MTV president Van Toffler in October 2006, when told that Google (GOOG) was about to buy YouTube and that MTV was making a last-ditch effort to muck up that deal: “He fuckin better–that’s an epic transaction that could harsh our collective buzz.”

Buzz harshed, Viacom tried negotiating an advertising deal with Google for about six months following the YouTube acquisition. And the breakdown of those talks is what lead to the lawsuit we’re looking at now.

Alas, I can’t find the actual “Godfather” clip on YouTube, which isn’t a surprise. But you can find plenty of homages:

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work