YouTube: The Platform

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youtiube-logo.png(Update: Comment from YouTube added below). In case there was still any doubt that Google wants to use YouTube to host all the video on the Web, it’s announcement earlier today to broaden its APIs makes it clear that is its goal. Once again, instead of making it easier to search videos elsewhere, Google is making it easier to host videos on YouTube. Except that the new APis allow people to upload, watch, search, and comment on the videos on other Websites. The key here is that the videos themselves are hosted on Youtube’s servers. This brings Google back full circle to the initial strategy for Google Video, which originally required videos to be uploaded directly to Google in order to become indexed. YouTube is gradually replacing Google Video—that is where most people upload videos anyway—but getting as much video from the rest of the Web onto its servers allows it to do many more things with it than if it simply indexed the videos elsewhere. It can search them better and throw up ads against them.

Specifically, the new APIs allow Web developers to:

* Upload videos and video responses to YouTube
* Add/Edit user and video metadata (titles, descriptions, ratings, comments, favorites, contacts, etc)
* Fetch localized standard feeds (most viewed, top rated, etc.) for 18 international locales
* Perform custom queries optimized for 18 international locales
* Customize player UI and control video playback (pause, play, stop, etc.) through software

YouTube is not just white-labeling its video-hosting infrastructure for other sites, devices, and desktop applications. It is offering video-hosting for free. This could prove highly disruptive to other video-hosting platforms such as Brightcove, Maven Networks (now part of Yahoo), and Move Networks. Partners already using the APIs include Animoto, Casio, Electronic Arts, Helio, KickApps, Slide, and TiVo. Yes, you can now watch YouTube on TiVo.

Of course, it is not exactly free. The videos will also be available on YouTube, where Google will make money from any associated ads. It is not clear how the ad revenue will be split, or even if it will be. There is nothing in the API that allows for a Website to insert their own ads. So that is a big question mark. (More on that after I speak with a YouTube exec later in today).

Update: YouTube product manager Jim Patterson confirms that there is no revenue-sharing built into the API, although he also points out that the API is open to YouTube Partners, who do share in the advertising dollars. He says:

We are not introducing any fundamentally new way to monetize. Any video that is uploaded through our API is treated exactly as on YouTube.com. In general if a video is uploaded to YouTube, in some cases we serve ads into that on YouTube.com. When people embed those we reserve rights to serve ads in the future.

It is not a white-label service. We do offer a hosting service, but it is not a direct alternative to the companies that you mention. There are some big differences. It is a YouTube-branded experience. It is free. The price you pay for using it is you must participate in the YouTube community.

In other words, YouTube feels that for the most part it is enough to direct traffic to third-party sites and let them tap into YouTube’s huge audience.

Yesterday, I put up a post asking readers to guess what YouTube’s announcement was going to be and offered a free iPod Shuffle to the first person to guess correctly. Although a lot of people were hoping for an announcement of better-quality video or a partnership with Hulu (that was my guess), only a handful got it right. Only the 237 comments submitted before YouTube made its announcement public at midnight PT were eligible for the prize.

Dan Frommer of Silicon Alley Insider pointed to a post of his last week that hinted at the white-labeling deal. But he wasn’t the first one with the right answer to comment on my post. (Sorry, Dan. No iPod for you, but you do get a link). Other commenters got parts of the announcement right—API for third-party uploads, partnership with TiVo, incorporating an upload-to-Youtube button on a a digital camera (Casio), integration with a video game platform (Spore)—but not the whole thing. The first commenter to really nail it, and the winner of the iPod Shuffle is Blake Machado (aka Balke Macho), No. 57, whose comment was:

YouTube as a platform. More developer tools/better APIs to power video on other sites (channels). Upload from third-party sites, search within the site, some kind of monetization model to go with it that will be announced but not yet released.

We are still waiting to learn about that monetization part, but everything else is spot on, and Macho was the first to really spell out the platform ambitions behind this announcement.

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