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Did a Tennis Game Change YouTube?

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

We’re seeing reports today that Google is about to “reinvent” YouTube to deliver a number of premium channels that may set the stage for an alternative to cable TV. If you have already gotten your copy of IN THE PLEX, you will find a harbinger of this in a GPS (Google Product Strategy) session I attended in late 2009.

Before the meeting started, Eric Schmidt was discussing a tennis tournament he had watched that previous weekend, streamed by CBS as an experiment. He was impressed by the quality.

After the leaders of YouTube had presented their results to the group the discussion turned to what’s next for YouTube. I don’t know how much the tennis match figured into this but here’s my account as in the book.

“I want you to create a new kind of broadcast,” [Schmidt] said. “It’s so obvious what the product should be. You goal should be to have a million quality broadcasts of…who knows what?”

Not long after that, YouTube began streaming live events, including a U2 concert at the Rose Bowl and a Barack Obama press conference. It also streamed its version of Google Goes to the Movies–a full-length version of Taxi Driver. These were apparently the first examples of Google’s intended millions of broadcasts.

The upcoming YouTube move should be seen the in the context of not only Google, but Netflix and Facebook and other Internet powers becoming alternatives to cable powers. The cable companies (and telco services that try to fill that space, too) are increasingly retaining their hold on us not by the monopoly power they have in owning the what was once the only conduit into our homes, but the regulatory boundaries they maintain and the contractual shut-outs they hold to prevent programming to move freely, onto the Internet. It will be interesting to see how long this artificial barrier holds up.

Meanwhile, I await news that YouTube is streaming tennis.

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