Local Rhythms – Google Buys YouTube

googleyoutube.jpgWith Google’s purchase of YouTube, a company that started as a garage full of servers with no clear business plan is now an office building full of servers, 60 cramped employees, $1.65 billion in Google stock – and still, no clear business plan.

But the deal fortifies the young upstarts against a copyright poison pill of the sort that cut off Napster at the knees in 2000; Google’s experience promises a way out of the lawsuits threatened by big record companies. As for future profits, one also expects the Internet’s biggest success story can lend their magic to produce enough ad revenue to justify what many considered an impossible price tag as recently as last week.

What does it mean for consumers? That’s harder to pin down. For the time being, not much will change for YouTube. There will be more ads, but that was happening already. Viral videos like “Lazy Sunday” and webcam soliloquies with dubious production values and microscopic audiences should continue to fuel YouTube’s enormous popularity.

The real value down the road – and the likely impetus for Google’s purchase – comes from deals done prior to the sale which cleared the use of content from major record labels, beginning with Warner Music Group. Someday, YouTube will reach its goal – to host every music video ever made, and then some.

Social networking sites like YouTube and MySpace have replaced old outlets like MTV and radio as a source for new music. One by one, old media is getting on board. The price tag Google paid indicates that they intend to make $150 million a year. The revolution starts now.

This doesn’t mean that television is dead. Technology should improve the thing it’s making obsolete, and Internet video is a long way off from displacing the ever-growing living room screen. Getting a high-def movie on demand from Adelphia or DirecTV is much easier than downloading it. The quality’s better, too.

YouTube provides a way for bored teens to show off for their friends, and an even better vehicle for three-minute music clips, talk show highlights and extreme news. But more than that? I don’t think so, at least not in the immediate future.

Here’s what is happening in the next few days around the region:

Thursday: Last Kid Picked, Anchorage – The last big bash of the season in Sunapee Harbor features a local band approaching its 10-year anniversary. They had an exciting evening recently when Robert Randolph caught their set at the Rusty Nail and joined them for an impromptu jam session. Quite a big deal when you consider that Randolph jams with Eric Clapton and Dave Matthews on his latest album.

Friday: Zebra Junction, Bistro Nouveau – After a few quiet weeks, music returns to Bistro in the form of an adventurous duo with roots in the Claremont area. Stylistically, I’d describe them as Gonzo Americana, perhaps, with elements of jam band and blues. Shawn “Flitz Alan” Palmer plays everything from harmonica, a bucket with rivets, and a 1929 banjo-ukulele. His cohort, guitarist Micah Lundy, scratch mixes with a Playskool tape deck. Fun stuff.

Saturday: Fat Angus, Royal Flush – AC/DC fans will love this. Fat Angus is a dead ringer for the rockers from Down Under, right down to the horns on Dave McCarron’s head. Springfield’s home for live music is consistently presenting shows on Saturdays. Stonewall is due in a few weeks, along with house band High Wire.

Sunday: Great Big Sea, Capitol Center for the Arts – I certainly didn’t see anything like them in “The Shipping News,” but Great Big Sea brings a different kind of Newfoundland with its music. They stay true to their Celtic roots while injecting thoroughly modern elements of pop and country. They’re also appearing Friday at the Lebanon Opera House, with Irish phenoms Lunasa opening.

Tuesday: Suicide Girls Burlesque Show, Pearl Street – First of all, don’t bring the kids to this one. Taking their name from either “Fight Club” or an INXS song, they embody a kind of female empowerment designed to tick off people like the Rev. Donald Wildmon. They call themselves “the most fun you can have with 7 girls, 6 firearms, and 5 bottles of chocolate sauce” – and a few guitars. Punky, edgy and not for the squeamish.

Wednesday: The Churchills, Green Mountain College – The Gorge at Withey Hall hosts a band prominent for contributing songs to television shows. Sort of YouTube before it was cool. I like them for their well-crafted pop gems like “Unpopular” and “I’m A Sucker For A Girl In Uniform,” which bubble over with Beatlesque energy. The infectious “Sometimes Your Best Isn’t Good Enough” is now the theme song for “Juvies,” new reality show on MTV – you know, the network that used to show videos.

YouTube/Cingular Deal – That’s More Like It

you.jpgAs I’ve written elsewhere, the YouTube/Warner Music deal will likely the cause the reverse of its intended purpose. On the other hand, the buzz-rich, cash-poor web site looks poised to leverage their cool factor with YouTube Underground, the battle of the bands announced earlier today.

YouTube’s strength is viral; marginally talented, attention-starved kids, weaned on reality television and rap lyrics with more brand names than verbs, upload their personal “American Idol” auditions to YouTube and pray that someone, anyone, will care. Out of the millions, a few lucky ones creep to the top.

On the other hand, the YouTube revolution has breathed new life into a dying art form, the indie band video. The most ironic moment of the 21st Century thus far has to be the appearance of OK-Go! on the MTV Video Music Awards. The band NEVER HAD A VIDEO AIR ON MTV before that night. OK-Go! owes most of its success to YouTube.

YouTube Underground promises that kind of cult explosion to an unknown, unsigned band. Of course, keeping true to irony, the winner will play on ABC’s Good Morning America.

I’m noticing a trend here. Large media outlets, be they record companies, TV networks, publishers or studios, can’t seem to tap the underground on their own. They’ve lost the ability to locate and nurture new talent. So they wait for talent to nurture itself, and for hordes of cash, pick the low-hanging fruits of someone else’s labor.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a viable business model. At some point, these artists will raise their price too high, or decline to share their bounties altogether. But what do I know? I’m just a blogger.

YouTube, like MySpace and other online communities, is simply a great host who demands very little from its guests – and everyone wants to come to the party.

YouTube Underground is the perfect vehicle – original, undiscovered talent flowing like cream to the top.

Contrast that with Warner Brothers. By hoping to collect copyright royalty fees from vain teenagers, they’re preparing to shoot fish in an empty barrel.