A long tale

Google's paying $1.6Bn worth of GOOG stock for YouTube looks to date as the most appropriate illustration of the excess preceding some crisis. And, since the transaction has been made in stock and not cash, it may well be heralding a stock market crisis. In other words, this event is so not as much about Google, since it paid with its somehow inflated currency, as it is about the public market itself that, thinking Google can do no wrong, rewarded GOOG handsomely after the transaction.

Writing about crises, I am not sure though how much of a crisis this transaction signals for the established media. I would posit that YouTube, in any foreseeable form that builds on the current model, could become a first-class channel to capitalize on the potential of the long tail effect associated with specialized media. In this context, specialized media is an euphemism for personal productions or copyleft material. This blog illustrates well the former category, while the following clip illustrates the latter:

So, while I can see millions of users deriving some sort of benefit by uploading/viewing personal productions, I could also see Google's aggregating enough demand for, let us say, the Celibidache-Michelangeli rendition of the Ravel Piano Concerto to even sell it in its entirety for up to $25.
While I have your attention, I would advance a quippish thought: I expect YouTube to make possible enough Blair Witch Projects in the next 5 years to even justify its price tag. As for the main media, one could only wish the model of three or more channels of the same thing on cable were over, or the newspapers, TV-, and radio-stations, fulfilled indeed their public service charters.


fCh said...

A little context may be necessary to fully appreciate such a video clip.

Celibidache/Michelangeli/classical music aficionados know how rare such recordings are. For one, Celibidache, the late conductor, was against studio recordings, hence the few and largely un-authorized recordings in circulation.

This recording of a live performance, the only form Celibidache sort of approved, aired on TV and was recorded by a viewer in Europe. In theory, the copyright for such production belongs to the (public) venue that broadcasted the performance and/or the heirs of Celibidache/Michelangeli. In practice, the entity holding the copyright to this production has little economic incentive to pursue the usual commercial channels, bound by geography--even though the production costs are low, the returns extracted from traditional channels are too low to justify the high distribution and marketing costs.

Enter YouTube&Google, and you can see classical music enthusiasts, all round the world, downloading the whole concert, at less than top, yet acceptable, quality, in conditions that maximize all involved parties' welfare.

Anonymous said...

This deal does not spell a crisis for the AT&Ts of the world but the "net neutrality" conversation has all the chances to heat up.

Let's see how/if the political context changes today in Washington DC, given the expected Democratic support for "net neutrality."

fCh said...

Here's a look at the implications of long tail effects on another major industry: Will the "Long Tail" Work for Hollywood? Following is the executive summary from the HBS Working Knowledge website:

The "long-tail phenomenon" is well documented: Amazon.com makes significant profits selling many low-volume books. But can the long tail work for video sales as well? A new working paper by professors Anita Elberse and Felix Oberholzer-Gee suggests that it may not bring the same benefits to Hollywood. Key concepts include:
For video sales, the long-tail phenomenon is not as pronounced at it is for books. There is evidence of a shift in sales to the tail for video, but an increasing number of titles do not sell at all.
Hollywood strategists have no easy answers for pumping up revenue, given a decline in the number of blockbuster hits. This new research suggests that the long-tail phenomenon might not be a panacea for video sales.
The music industry may be more of a long-tail beneficiary than the movie industry.

Anonymous said...

Check this out!

Source: The New York Times

November 16, 2006
The Web
YouTube’s Greatest Hits

Until recently I had assumed that the “you” in YouTube referred to anybody but me, maybe everybody but me. Like who? College kids with a compulsive need to procrastinate. Media-obsessives anxious to keep track of the hot new joke or political gaffe. Exhibitionists and their friends. Lovers of humiliation comedy. People with an excessive fondness for the cute antics of their pets.

Certainly, this freakish and freakishly large video archive offers plenty of material to sate the appetites of those constituencies. But it also offers a dizzying array of material for addicts of what, for lack of more egalitarian term, I’ll call high culture. Or high-ish culture: I’m talking not just about opera and dance, but also that often derided but enduring enterprise called the Broadway musical.

Thanks to its ease of operation, YouTube allows pretty much anyone with a mild curiosity about opera or musical theater to expand his frame of reference without spending a dime, thanks to the compulsive generosity of members with a desire to exhibit their curatorial prowess. It also offers the rabidly enthusiastic a chance to display the colorful plumage of their passions. Spend an hour or two trolling through YouTube looking for high art, following a path forged with the help of the Web site’s own built-in (and eccentric) electronic trailblazer, and you come away amazed at the volume (and sometimes the quality) of material available for instant viewing.

On the opera front the easiest place to start is by typing in the name of a favorite singer. The most popular are represented in depth. Unsurprisingly, Maria Callas clips number more than 100, including lots of interviews and late-career concert performances but also a scene from the Lisbon “Traviata” of 1958, immortalized by the playwright Terrence McNally.

You can also see some choice highlights from the career of Leonie Rysanek, a dramatic soprano who garnered a passionate following for her vocally fearless and dramatically incisive interpretations, or the great tenor Jon Vickers, seen in his prime in selections from “Peter Grimes,” “Otello” and “Tristan und Isolde.” (An important caveat: things come and go on YouTube, sometimes hour by hour; clips I saw one day would be untraceable the next.)

Or if you want to compare and contrast, you might begin by typing into the search field the name of a popular aria — “Sempre libera,” for instance, Violetta’s coloratura showpiece from the first act of “La Traviata.” They’re all here, it seems, the stars of yore and of today, perhaps tomorrow: Anna Moffo in a film version from 1967, Joan Sutherland at her precise best, Angela Gheorghiu at Covent Garden in 1994 under Georg Solti, Sumi Jo and Teresa Stratas and Adriana Kohutkova too.

Wait a sec. Adriana who? “Nowadays one of the best Slovak opera singers,” the note attached to the clip explains. And let’s not forget Mihaela Stanciu. She’s there too. Click on her “Traviata” clip, and you are referred to a veritable trove of Mihaela’s greatest hits. Thus does YouTube create an odd, quantitative equivalence between a relatively obscure Romanian soprano and some of the greats of today and yesteryear. Zealotry of various stripes is the engine that keeps YouTube humming, and as Ms. Stanciu’s video repertory indicates, there’s no fanatic like an opera fanatic.

When it comes to dance, by contrast, the pickings are pretty slim. This isn’t as surprising as it might seem. Dancers tend not to have the cultish followings of opera singers. Dance lovers also often disdain videotaped performances as flimsy representations of an art form that loses its savor when it isn’t seen live.

Although the quality varies widely, sound tends to transmit better than sight on YouTube, at least in my experience, particularly if you’ve got a good pair of speakers. But there’s not much to be done about the grainy, jerky and sometimes murky look of many of the videos, particularly the “bootleg” stuff shot with hand-held video cameras.

Type in the name of George Balanchine, the most celebrated choreographer of the 20th century, and a mere 17 offerings pop up. All but two of them are slices from a Paris Opera Ballet performance of “Jewels” recently released on DVD and broadcast on PBS. Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alessandra Ferri in “La Sonnambula” and a dance bit from the 1977 soapy backstage ballet movie “The Turning Point” are also accessible.

Modern dance is even less well represented than ballet. There are many Paul Taylor clips, but none that I could find that had anything to do with the choreographer (the curse of a commonplace name). I found nothing of note on a search for Martha Graham. A gorgeous (and relatively clear) two minutes of a youthful Merce Cunningham performing in “Septet” in 1964 was among the few rewarding discoveries.

The Broadway collection is richer but also pretty spotty, and sometimes downright strange. You could probably spend an afternoon watching various possessed souls lip-synching to “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” Jennifer Holliday’s gut-wrenching aria from “Dreamgirls.” But I couldn’t find any bootleg clips from the original production itself (aside from the Tony telecast medley), or for that matter from the original Broadway production of “A Chorus Line.” If you want to check out highlights of this year’s Grand Rapids Civic Theater production of “A Chorus Line,” however, you’re in luck.

YouTube has gained its popularity as a sort of collective cultural sideshow, full of oddities and embarrassments both watchable and unwatchable. The culture archives are no exception and are full of priceless curiosities. It wasn’t linked to the show’s title, but I found a 1980 clip of Leontyne Price, of all people, singing “What I Did for Love” from “A Chorus Line.” Weirdly mesmerizing. (It looks like it came from one of those “Fledermaus” galas featuring dubious guest turns.)

A friend sent me a funny clip of a lederhosen-clad boy soprano singing (impressively) the Queen of the Night’s fiendish aria “Der Hölle Rache” from “The Magic Flute.” The poor thing looks like he’d rather be kicking a soccer ball around. Wonder what “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” from “Gypsy” sounds like in Portuguese? YouTube has the answer.

And then there’s “Carrie: The Musical,” the discovery of which I consider the most choice fruit of my immersion in YouTube’s murky depths. Based on the Stephen King novel about a telekinetic teenager who has a very bad night at the prom, this flop musical has come to symbolize Broadway folly. It ran for just five performances in 1988, but a suspiciously large number of people claim to have seen it.

Now, thanks to YouTube, you can join the knowing ranks. Sort of. The dedication of a single enthusiast has ensured that “Carrie” is not forgotten: a big chunk of “Carrie”-related material can be checked out, everything from television reviews by Pat Collins and Joel Siegel to B-roll tape (video supplied to stations for promotional purposes).

Most riveting, for me, were the scenes taped from high up in the balcony. The song “And Eve Was Weak” is captured pretty much in its entirety, and it’s kind of fabulous — and not in a so-bad-it’s-good way either.

Performed with hair-raising conviction by Betty Buckley, who as Carrie’s mother looks like a spider scurrying around the stage, and Linzi Hateley as Carrie, this duet finds the two locked in a fierce fight for the troubled girl’s soul. O.K., maybe it’s not “Jenufa” — Janacek’s opera about a rigid stepmother and her doomed daughter — but it’s a well-wrought, emotionally powerful scene that is a damn sight more ambitious, effective and interesting than pretty much any five minutes from any jukebox musical you can name.

I’ve watched it half a dozen times now, with my admiration for Ms. Buckley’s fearless performance waxing continuously as my suspicion grows that “Carrie: The Musical” has been unjustly maligned.

Maybe I’m getting carried away. Ferreting around cyberspace in YouTube can be a bit like going down the rabbit hole, entering a strange, oddly seductive media universe in which normal standards you’d bring to the consumption of culture don’t seem to apply. Why would anyone want to watch some nobodies from Grand Rapids performing “A Chorus Line”? You scoff, and then, possessed by curiosity, outrage or some other impulse, you click.

Anonymous said...

So let's say, Google bought a piece of real estate called YouTube. It is downtown and has the potential for development. However the diference between the white elephant and the sawn is going to be left to the architect...so far Google has only a parking lot