Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Today’s Giant Media Event, Brought to You — And Owned — By Google

lady gaga youtube music awardsRemember when Google was a technology company that didn’t want to be in the media business?

Actually, that was always a stretch, since Google has been selling ads since 2000, and soon after that became one of the world’s most powerful media companies, no matter how it liked to describe itself.

Now Google has stopped pretending. And it is doing a lot more than selling ads around other people’s content — it’s investing in content itself. See, for example: Zagat, Frommer’s, Machinima, Vevo, dozens of YouTube channels, and 300, Lyor Cohen’s new record label.

And if you don’t want to click on any of those links, head to YouTube tonight at 6 pm ET, where the world’s largest video site is putting on its own awards show, designed to occupy some of the same pop-cultural turf now claimed by spectacles like the Grammys and the VMAs.

As The Verge reminds us, YouTube has tried to do something a little like this before.  But YouTube Live was mostly a celebration of things that only existed because of YouTube, like Tay Zonday. And it ended up being a pretty modest celebration.

Tonight’s YouTube Music Awards are supposed to be big-big-big, featuring people that lots of people have heard of, like Lady Gaga and Eminem. Director Spike Jonze, who made it big in music videos back when music videos were still something you watched on MTV, is coordinating the whole thing. And YouTube promises that the whole thing will run a tight 90 minutes, which is a big deal for a company that plays it by ear quite a bit.

What’s most striking about today’s event is that the concept isn’t really that striking at all: Music videos and YouTube are now synonymous, and have been for a long time. YouTube is effectively the world’s most popular digital music service, which is why the company’s plans to offer a paid service only seem slightly weird at this point.

So it makes perfect sense to gather some of the talent that benefits from YouTube’s exposure to help create a spectacle that will generate more exposure for them, and for YouTube. After all, that’s the kind of thing that media companies do.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald