Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How Dead, or Alive, is YouTube Now?

Last week I discussed the Google/YouTube deal and concluded that while it had some noteworthy flaws, the pluses outweighed the minuses. Then, after posting the blog, I read an interesting article by Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle. Entitled “Is YouTube Dead?”, Hartlaub argued that when button-down corporate types with big bucks take over wild, zany, iconoclastic outfits like Napster, MySpace, or YouTube, you can bet that the party’s over and the wildly creative, audacious spirit that attracted the Daddy Warbucks in the first place will be slowly euthanized. Reminds me of that old song about what happens after the wedding: Big Bad Bill is Just Sweet William now.

Is Hartlaub overly paranoid here? Maybe, because Google’s founders appear to be fairly wild ‘n’ crazy themselves. On the other hand, he’s got a point worth considering. Too often, I’ve seen big Wile E. Coyote corporations who have lost the capacity to innovate buy up small, imaginative Road Runner companies, and then slowly strangle the latters’ spirit with bureaucratic sclerosis. Google is different because it’s still quite innovative, but as a multi-billion dollar publicly traded corporation, it will be interesting to see how it “manages” and “smooths over” the lawless edginess of YouTube. And it will be doubly interesting to see how many YouTube fans wind up defecting to other (yet unborn) more maniacal (less “commercial”?) sites over the next few years. (Already, thousands of clips are being destroyed because of possible copyright infringements; a prudent legal maneuver, to be sure, but does it support Hartlaub’s premise?)

One other thing. Regardless of how similar the Google and YouTube corporate cultures might be, and regardless of the good intentions of both parties, it is damn difficult to integrate any two organizations in a way that 2 + 2=7. The executives, consultants, lawyers and investment bankers who typically cut deals are financial and legal experts who often have little interest in these integration matters. When pressed, their responses often reflect a naïve assumption that somehow the acquiring company’s overworked staff will make it all happen. But even if the two company cultures have similar values, it’s still a formidable challenge to synthesize two complex sets of systems, products, people, and attitudes.

I’m not saying the Google/YouTube deal is therefore a stinker. On the contrary, I stand by my conclusions of last week. But I want to acknowledge Hartlaub for suggesting a valid point: mainly, that things may look great on paper, but they change after an acquisition, and sometimes not in ways that were anticipated, or desired. Let’s revisit YouTube after a couple years and see what it looks like, and let’s see if there are new outlaw competitors who have taken over the buzz and the growth.


Post a Comment

<< Home