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My reactions to the BBC deal with Google/YouTube

The BBC has announced that it’s done a deal with YouTube, to put short clips and trailers up on the video sharing site. I actually found out about this last Monday when I visited the BBC, but promised to keep it quiet until the official announcement.

I actually don’t think this was very good deal, and the BBC should have taken notice that most of the other big broadcasters have turned their nose up at this and previous YouTube deals.

In fact, if you read the NY Times article, the BBC has been lumped in as being part of a round of contract announcements between Google/YouTube and ‘small media players’.

Other companies who decided to accept a similar contract to the BBC include the Hollywood Records, YES Network, and Ford. The only other relatively high-tier broadcaster in the announcement is the National Basketball League, which presumably commands high prices for it’s broadcast rights.

Most of the bluechip broadcasters have avoided putting their clips up on YouTube as even a non-exclusive license dilutes their own efforts to market and display such clips on their own sites. Viacom, which operates MTV and Comedy Central has done well on it’s own sites – finding the sweet-spot of ease of distribution/viralness and appropriate cross-promotion/upsell to full program.

To me, it jars that the BBC would agree a similar deal to, who have a lot more to gain than the BBC from the exposure and revenue (we’ll come onto that in a moment).

The BBC is going to show trailers and clips on YouTube, rather than bespoke or full-length content. Although YouTube is very good at facilitating the viral nature in which this kind of content can be shared, it’s ultimately promotional material and as such I think the BBC is missing out not getting it’s act together and having a way this can be displayed in a custom BBC-embedded player that can properly link back to the relevant BBC site for the clip. By putting the clips on YouTube the BBC is missing out on a fantastic cross-promotion opportunity by having the clips source directly in the site they originate from.

My guess is that there are no plans, or capacity, to build such a platform and as such doing a deal with YouTube has been decided as an easy way out. Or cop out, as I would call it.

Two concerning factors

The two big issues that arise from this deal are advertising revenue and the waived rights to pursue copyright infringement.

So some of the clips that the BBC will upload to YouTube will carry advertising (for non-BBC products/services). I find this bizarre on one hand because all of the BBC content that’s been announced sounds like promotional content and as such it seems a bit much to have adverts on the adverts! I still don’t see a 5 minute clip of the guy who plays Doctor Who showing you around the production set to be anything but marketing. For me it’s not ‘real’ content.

The more concerning issue is that adverts will be displayed for some clips to users in the UK, and I think that’s an awful concession to make in order to avoid building an in-house system that does this within the BBC. Admittedly the BBC is always under pressure to monetize it’s content internationally, but never domestically within the UK.

The other issue is that the BBC has waived it’s right to sue YouTube for any copyright breaches of BBC material on YouTube. It seems like anytime Google/YouTube do a deal with a media company or rights holder they demand they sign a waiver if they want to play ball with YouTube.

If ever there was an example of “better to seek forgiveness than to seek permission” YouTube is it. I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing.

It was able to establish such a dominance in the market by being turning a blind-eye to the amount of copyrighted video that was uploaded. It’s now able to command many of the media companies get off their backs about copyright as they have just as much to gain as YouTube. It perhaps shows that if broadcasters in general had offered their own well-executed YouTube-like services in the beginning they would have seen a return that more than justified the risk and upfront cost.

There has certainly been the demand, which YouTube is now filling despite the fact it is a bit of departure from it’s original goal of sharing user-generated video.

As I said, overall I’m disappointed in this deal. For me, it’s arguable whether the videos are content or promotion and as such putting adverts on them seem galling, and that’s before you consider the UK license fee payer’s perspective (who should not be seeing any advertising on BBC content).

I really don’t see what the BBC will gain from this deal in the long term, and feel it would be far better off if it built it’s own strategy and well-executed solution for people who wish to share short clips of BBC material on their blogs, webspace and other places. Such demand is not going to go away, and will never be fully catered for to the BBC’s maximum benefit on YouTube.

Published in BBC Media2.0 News Thoughts and Rants


  1. Thanks for posting on this. I had thought this was one more example of the BBC’s progressive embrace of new media but the points you bring up complicate that perspective for sure.

  2. You have a different read on the ads than me. I thought the promotional behind the scenes stuff is served ad free on the BBC channel, but the show clips on the BBC Worldwide channel, and they mentioned things like Spooks and TopGear, would carry ads, as well as the news channel only available outside the UK.

  3. Scott Jungling Scott Jungling

    Do you have any thoughts/ideas/insight as to why the BBC hasn’t teamed up with Apple’s iTunes store (outside of the UK) to try and distribute/monetize video content? Since that’s a common direction that all of the big American Networks have gone in addition to pursuing their own internal distribution network.

    I agree, that for the UK audience, an internal solution would be ideal. However, for an international audience, why not take advantage of the platform which has already been built?

  4. Ben Ben


    I have no idea why the BBC hasn’t teamed up with Apple ITunes Store but it’s hard for me to comment because I don’t know whether they tried and were rebuffed or whether it’s just that they’ve never considered it.

    “However, for an international audience, why not take advantage of the platform which has already been built?”

    It depends whether you see this is as a viable content distribution channel. YouTube can be, if it’s used for content (albeit short, user-generated).

    However clips and trailers, to me, are promotional and as such it sounds to me like the BBC is using YouTube as a promotion opportunity.

    If you’re going to put video out into the ether as a promotional ‘tidbit’ then you need to think about what happens next when you have caught the user’s attention.

    On YouTube it would be very difficult to direct them to the program’s original website or ways in which they can consume the rest of that piece of media in full (iPlayer online through to boring DVD purchase on Amazon). YouTube isn’t designed for that where as broadcaster’s own websites generally are.

    As a platform in general, I actually think YouTube affords a broadcaster or commercial content owner very little in terms of monetization opportunity (at least currently) or upsell/cross-sell. Let’s not forget the existing platform was built primarily for user-generated content and in it’s current form was never intended to be monetized through anything but basic banner adverts, etc.

  5. Scott Jungling Scott Jungling

    I should have been a little more specific, the “existing platform” I was referring to was iTunes. However, now that I think about it, the obvious draw back would be the whole DRM issue.

    I think you’re right in that YouTube doesn’t offer much to traditional broadcasters. I think partners like the NBA or NHL make a little more sense as people are probably less inclined to want to purchase full length videos of games that have happened in the past. While at the same time, short highlight clips can only help boost awareness and interest.

  6. Ben Ben


    “I thought the promotional behind the scenes stuff is served ad free on the BBC channel, but the show clips on the BBC Worldwide channel, and they mentioned things like Spooks and TopGear, would carry ads”

    Show clips just a few minutes long, to me, are still promotional given that the content is being edited down to fit the time slot. Sure, TopGear has segments but Spooks for example is produced to be an hour long show and thus any clip from it (to me) is just a trailer and not a self-standing piece of content.

  7. Steven Steven

    Hi Ben. It was great to see you last week. Hope those new boots didn’t cause any security alerts at the airport!

    Highfield seems to be pretty forthright that this deal is really all about promoting the BBC’s services.

    I’d imagine the BBC folks who brokered this deal will be particularly interested in attracting more US users to BBC websites, as part of efforts to raise revenue from the proposed commercial advertising on the international versions of these sites, and tying that into BBC Worldwide’s attempts to get a proper foothold in the commercial US market.

  8. I take your point, Ben — and I think the BBC should definitely be looking at other deals as well (since I’m pretty sure the YouTube deal is non-exclusive), including its own platform as well as maybe an embeddable player through someone like Brightcove. But at the same time, why not take advantage of YouTube? Maybe make a little revenue, get some eyeballs, do some marketing. Where’s the harm?

  9. Very interesting read, Ben – thanks for the writeup of your opinions! However;

    its, not it’s.

    You made the mistake quite a few times throughout the article, and it interrupts the flow of the text a bit. Considering the amount of eyes this article’s going to get over the next few days, maybe edit this article and correct the incorrect apostrophes?

    Sorry if I sound like a grumpy old man, misuse of “its” and “it’s” is one of my pet hates. The actual content of the article was pretty good though, just commenting on the single incorrect grammar usage!

    Grumpy old man mode off…

  10. I couldn’t disagree more. The BBC has a completely different business model to the likes of Viacom and is thus open to the idea that by giving more they will receive more. If I was part of their brand in an increasingy competitive market place for eyeballs, anything that gave an opportunity for people to see the quality of my content, through whatever media channel is to my mind a plus. Of course this experiment is funded at the expense of the tax payer but it’s an experiment that I for one am willing to pay for.

  11. The more concerning issue is that adverts will be displayed for some clips to users in the UK, and I think that’s an awful concession to make in order to avoid building an in-house system that does this within the BBC

    You’re talking absolute b*ll*cks and as an ex-BBC employee, you know it – or you should know it.

    Here’s a question for you. Which BBC channels targetted mainly at the UK already carry advertising?

    So where’s the concession?

    My disenchantment at the Beeb is complete now the true Blue Peter story has leaked out…

    By the way. Why not stop using an extremely sad and unfortunate recent incident to post such self-aggrandising messages?

    And skip the accent on the word ‘Resume’, you arse – unless you’d like to add appropriate diacritics to every other word you borrow from French.

    Facade? Cafe? Naive?

    I don’t think ‘twat’ has one.

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