YouTube Succumbs To Branding As Warner Music Begins Its Return

Last January Warner Music Group forced YouTube to remove all of its music from the site, citing disputes over royalty payments. This led to an outcry from users, who created protest videos once YouTube started muting or pulling down any user-generated content that contained WMG songs as background music. Today, those songs are starting to make their way back to the world’s largest video portal: music videos for Madonna, Green Day, and Bee Gees, among others, are now live on YouTube for the first time in nearly a year.

That’s great news. But the new videos will look a bit odd to anyone who has used YouTube before — they’re all decked out with extensive branding, including colorful backgrounds and large links to the artist’s products. Warner alone has the ability to do this, because of a deal it negotiated that gives it far more control over its pages than other content partners have. Warner is allowed to control its own branding, and can sell its own ads against both its own music videos and the user generated content that features its songs, with the majority of the revenue from these ads going to WMG (YouTube will take a cut as well).

At this point the branding isn’t awful, but it’s a concession YouTube surely wasn’t eager to make. After all, now that Warner has the ability to brand their clips however they want, other content owners will want to do it themselves. If YouTube agrees to that, we’ll lose the relatively uniform layout on the site in favor of something that’s more reminiscent of (the old) MySpace. And there’s always the risk that Warner won’t be happy with its initial results and may try some more aggressive branding, which could get even more annoying.

At this point it looks like only a fraction on Warner’s content has been reintroduced to the site, though we can likely expect more of it to come online in the next few weeks.