Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

If YouTube Is Doing $1.6 Billion a Year, Why Does It Need Hollywood?

Google refuses to hand out any details about YouTube’s financial performance, but Wall Street keeps on guesstimating. Here’s a new one: The world’s biggest video site will generate $1.6 billion in revenue this year, says Barclays Capital Anthony DiClemente.

That number is in line with some of DiClemente’s peers, but it’s still notable for two reasons:

  • If it’s true, it means the video site’s revenue has now synced up with the price Google paid for it five years ago.
  • Much more important, by DiClemente’s estimate, it means YouTube commands a staggering 80 percent of Web video revenues — he figures the whole market is worth $2 billion.

It’s possible that DiClemente’s numbers are a bit off. Hulu has said it will do more than $500 million in 2011, with the majority of that coming from advertising. So if both of those numbers are accurate it would mean that there was essentially no other video ad spending anywhere in the world in 2011, which seems like a bit of a stretch.

[UPDATE: Barclays analyst Perry Gold clarifies that the $1.6 billion YouTube estimate is a global number, but the $2 billion figure is its estimate for the U.S. market video market. Gold suggests that the global video market may be $2.5 billion to $3 billion, which would make the math a little easier to digest. But the other wildcard here, as some readers have noted, is that YouTube's revenues come from both video ads and display advertising, which means we're not comparing apples to apples.]

Still, point taken: YouTube is finally a big business that makes serious money. Perhaps it’s even profitable!

And if that’s the case, why is it pressing ahead with this Hollywood/“channels” strategy?

The big idea behind that one, after all, is to create stuff that advertisers will be happy to pay a premium for. But if YouTube is already generating $1.6 billion a year for non-premium stuff, why bother?

One possible answer: The channel strategy is a big focus for YouTube, but it doesn’t mean the site is abandoning what’s already working.

And while people who type stuff like to mention the $100 million YouTube is investing in the project (guilty!), bear in mind that the number is almost meaningless to Google. In fact, Google has already spent close to double that in the first nine months of this year — $173 million — on “content acquisition costs … primarily related to content displayed on YouTube,” and I’m reasonably sure that number doesn’t include the channel deals, most of which were only recently finalized.

So while the channels plan may augur Google’s intention to “take on TV” and “disrupt cable” and other storm-the-barricades metaphors, right now it’s just a toe-touch for YouTube head Salar Kamangar and his team. Turns out that what they’re already doing could be working just fine.


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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