YouTube flex their muscles with indie labels and acts
YouTube’s decision to yank videos from a range of independent labels from its vast depository raises many questions, especially for acts
YouTube is certainly ready to rumble. Yesterday, Google’s video streaming company announced that it was set to cull videos by independent artists from its service because of a dispute over negotiations for a new music subscription service. This means that you won’t find anything when you go to YouTube looking for videos by your favourite indie acts from Arctic Monkeys and Adele to Radiohead and your current flavour of the month.
It’s one hell of a move. From YouTube’s side, the spin is that they’ve signed up labels “repesenting 90 per cent of the music industry” for the new service, which is believed to be called YouTube Music Pass, and they have to get on with things. Head of content and business operations, Robert Kyncl, used classic corporatespeak to say ‘yah boo sucks’ to the indies. “While we wish that we had 100% success rate, we understand that is not likely an achievable goal and therefore it is our responsibility to our users and the industry to launch the enhanced music experience”.
The indies, naturally, are not taking this. A fortnight ago, independent music association WIN sent out its troops, including chief executive Alison Wenham and Billy Bragg, to say that they were mad as hell and were not going to take it anymore. Wenham refered to the “threats, intimidation and bullying” employed by YouTube when it came to persuading indies to sign up for the service. Meanwhile, Bragg said he believed YouTube were being “stupid” with their approach.
While YouTube may claim that they’re just missing 10 per cent of the available music by not having the indies around anymore, the indies counter this pointing to an estimate that indies collectively account for a 34.6 per cent share of the recorded music industry’s sales and streams. Going on the fact that revenue from physical and download sales are very much on the slide and not coming back, it stands to reason that the indies want to make sure any new service, especially one with the potential to jostle with Spotify, gives them a fair shake of the proceeds.
You have to wonder what the artists make of all this because that’s where the bottom line is. They’re the ones who make the music and who then transfer their copyright in this music to labels (in return for advances on royalities of course) to exploit. If the labels can’t get the music on YouTube, this means they’re losing out on potential audience share and profile.
Some acts will naturally be happy with how their labels have approached the YouTube negotiations – they’re the acts who probably baulk at the dwindling royalty statements they get every quarter – but others will have done the sums and reckon it’s better to be in than out. After all, they also know that the royalty split which many indies negotiate with their acts is sure to change and certainly not in their favour.
Then, there’s the question about whether punters will actually pay for a premium service. The gut reaction is that people who have become used to a free (or free-with-ads) product will be quite happy to stick with this so it remains to be seen what sort of “encouragement” Google will use to switch punters from free to paid-for. Ads in the middle of the tunes, perhaps?
Still, every cloud has a silver lining. Anyone out there want to pony up some VC cash for us to start YourIndieTube, a music video streaming service with just indie acts and labels? We’re going to spend the morning getting our presentation deck together.