2008年12月11日 星期四

YouTube Videos Pull In Serious Money

YouTube Videos Pull In Real Money

Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Michael Buckley, YouTube host, at home in Connecticut.

Published: December 10, 2008

Making videos for YouTube — for three years a pastime for millions of Web surfers — is now a way to make a living.

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Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Michael Buckley quit his day job in September. He says his online show is “silly,” but it helped pay off credit-card debt.

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One year after YouTube, the online video powerhouse, invited members to become “partners” and added advertising to their videos, the most successful users are earning six-figure incomes from the Web site. For some, like Michael Buckley, the self-taught host of a celebrity chatter show, filming funny videos is now a full-time job.

Mr. Buckley quit his day job in September after his online profits had greatly surpassed his salary as an administrative assistant for a music promotion company. His thrice-a-week online show “is silly,” he said, but it has helped him escape his credit-card debt.

Mr. Buckley, 33, was the part-time host of a weekly show on a Connecticut public access channel in the summer of 2006 when his cousin started posting snippets of the show on YouTube. The comical rants about celebrities attracted online viewers, and before long Mr. Buckley was tailoring his segments, called “What the Buck?” for the Web. Mr. Buckley knew that the show was “only going to go so far on public access.”

“But on YouTube,” he said, “I’ve had 100 million views. It’s crazy.”

All he needed was a $2,000 Canon camera, a $6 piece of fabric for a backdrop and a pair of work lights from Home Depot. Mr. Buckley is an example of the Internet’s democratizing effect on publishing. Sites like YouTube allow anyone with a high-speed connection to find a fan following, simply by posting material and promoting it online.

Granted, building an audience online takes time. “I was spending 40 hours a week on YouTube for over a year before I made a dime,” Mr. Buckley said — but, at least in some cases, it is paying off.

Mr. Buckley is one of the original members of YouTube’s partner program, which now includes thousands of participants, from basement video makers to big media companies. YouTube, a subsidiary of Google, places advertisements within and around the partner videos and splits the revenues with the creators. “We wanted to turn these hobbies into businesses,” said Hunter Walk, a director of product management for the site, who called popular users like Mr. Buckley “unintentional media companies.”

YouTube declined to comment on how much money partners earned on average, partly because advertiser demand varies for different kinds of videos. But a spokesman, Aaron Zamost, said “hundreds of YouTube partners are making thousands of dollars a month.” At least a few are making a full-time living: Mr. Buckley said he was earning over $100,000 from YouTube advertisements.

The program is a partial solution to a nagging problem for YouTube. The site records 10 times the video views as any other video-sharing Web site in the United States, yet it has proven to be hard for Google to profit from, because a vast majority of the videos are posted by anonymous users who may or may not own the copyrights to the content they upload. While YouTube has halted much of the illegal video sharing on the site, it remains wary of placing advertisements against content without explicit permission from the owners. As a result, only about 3 percent of the videos on the site are supported by advertising.

But the company has high hopes for the partner program. Executives liken it to Google AdSense, the technology that revolutionized advertising and made it possible for publishers to place text advertisements next to their content.

“Some of these people are making videos in their spare time,” said Chad Hurley, a co-founder of YouTube. “We felt that if we were able to provide them a true revenue source, they’d be able to hone their skills and create better content.”

In a time of media industry layoffs, the revenue source — and the prospect of a one-person media company — may be especially appealing to users. But video producers like Lisa Donovan, who posts sketch comedy onto YouTube and attracted attention in the fall for parodies of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, do not make it sound easy. “For new users, it’s a lot of work,” Ms. Donovan said. “Everybody’s fighting to be seen online; you have to strategize and market yourself.”

Mr. Buckley, who majored in psychology in college and lives with his husband and four dogs in Connecticut, films his show from home. Each episode of “What the Buck?” is viewed an average of 200,000 times, and the more popular ones have reached up to three million people. He said that writing and recording five minutes’ worth of jokes about Britney Spears’s comeback tour and Miley Cyrus’s dancing abilities is not as easy as it looks. “I’ve really worked hard on honing my presentation and writing skills,” he said.

As his traffic and revenues grew, Mr. Buckley had “so many opportunities online that I couldn’t work anymore.” He quit his job at Live Nation, the music promoter, to focus full-time on the Web show.

There is a symmetry to Mr. Buckley’s story. Some so-called Internet celebrities view YouTube as a stepping stone to television. But Mr. Buckley started on TV and found fame on YouTube. Three months ago, he signed a development deal with HBO, an opportunity that many media aspirants dream about. Still, “I feel YouTube is my home,” he said. “I think the biggest mistake that any of us Internet personalities can make is establish ourselves on the Internet and then abandon it.”

Cory Williams, 27, a YouTube producer in California, agrees. Mr. Williams, known as smpfilms on YouTube, has been dreaming up online videos since 2005, and he said his big break came in September 2007 with a music video parody called “The Mean Kitty Song.” The video, which introduces Mr. Williams’ evil feline companion, has been viewed more than 15 million times. On a recent day, the video included an advertisement from Coca-Cola.

Mr. Williams, who counts about 180,000 subscribers to his videos, said he was earning $17,000 to $20,000 a month via YouTube. Half of the profits come from YouTube’s advertisements, and the other half come from sponsorships and product placements within his videos, a model that he has borrowed from traditional media.

On YouTube, it is evident that established media entities and the up-and-coming users are learning from each other. The amateur users are creating narrative arcs and once-a-week videos, enticing viewers to visit regularly. Some, like Mr. Williams, are also adding product-placement spots to their videos. Meanwhile, brand-name companies are embedding their videos on other sites, taking cues from users about online promotion. Mr. Walk calls it a subtle “cross-pollination” of ideas.

Some of the partners are major media companies; the ones with the most video views include Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, CBS and Warner Brothers. But individual users are now able to compete alongside them. Mr. Buckley, who did not even have high-speed Internet access two years ago, said his YouTube hobby had changed his financial life.

“I didn’t start it to make money,” he said, “but what a lovely surprise.”

2008年12月10日 星期三

Google Zeitgeist

What the Search Engines Have Found Out About All of Us

Published: December 10, 2008

Google has released its map of the national brain and appetites for 2008, and it turns out that many, many people across America have been asking the Internet “what is love?” and “how to kiss.”

And to tighten the focus, Google has also provided a list of search queries made by people sitting at computers in New York City.

It turns out that New Yorkers are looking for something a bit different. On a list of the 10 subjects that posted the greatest increases this year, the country as a whole was looking for Fox News and information about David Cook, the “American Idol” champion.

Neither made the New York list. Then again, the national list did not have 2 of the city’s top 10: Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus architecture school, and the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile circular underground tunnel in Switzerland that was built to smash protons into each other at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light.

No doubt someone out in cyberspace can explain the surge of interest this year in Gropius, who has been dead since 1969 and has only one structure of any note in the city, the former Pan Am building.

The collider is easier to understand. There were worries that the crash of protons would instantly create a black hole, but in good news that was widely overlooked at the time, no hole appeared — or is it disappeared? — on Sept. 10, the day the machine was turned on. Search-engine interest in the collider promptly dropped off, as people pointed their anxieties and inquiries toward “Wall Street.” (The collider is currently on the fritz, as is Wall Street.)

On the surface, these kinds of lists are supposed to reveal what Google calls the zeitgeist of 2008, though it’s not much of a surprise that people were interested in Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. But they also provide hints of the level of personal details that people are now turning over to search engines and related businesses without much awareness.

The lists, said Lt. Col. Greg Conti, a professor of computer science at West Point, “are just major tsunami-type activities, big waves in the online searches.”

Professor Conti, the author of “Googling Security: How Much Does Google Know About You?” (Addison-Wesley, 2008), contends that Google’s internal tools make it possible to develop detailed pictures of individual interests, not just of masses of teenagers looking for the very latest about Miley Cyrus.

“A complete picture of us as individuals and as companies emerges — political leanings, medical conditions, business acquisitions signaled by job searches,” he said. “It would be very scary if we could play back every search we made. Those can be tied back very precisely to an individual. You can go all the way from individual molecules of water up to the tsunami.”

INFORMATION on the Web looks free, but it is actually swapped for little bits of data that are useful to businesses. Google records Internet protocol addresses that are generated by each computer, cookies permitted by the users, the kind of browser being used, and the operating system of the computer, said Heather Spain, a spokeswoman for Google.

After nine months, Ms. Spain said, Google starts to “anonymise” the data it has collected by deleting the last two digits from the I.P. address. At 18 months, Google removes parts of the cookie number.

“This breaks the link between the search query and the computer it was entered from,” she said. “It’s similar to the way in which credit card companies replace digits with hash marks on receipts to improve their customers’ security.”

Professor Conti said that few people have the slightest idea how much of a trail they leave across the Internet. “People tend to think they’re only leaving footprints on sites that they trust,” he said, but many Web sites contain invisible code, like Google Analytics, that can track users over swaths of the Web.

The lists of popular searches, Ms. Spain said, are the products of inquiries by millions of people and do not threaten anyone’s privacy. The tools Google provides to the public for analyzing searches generally make it possible to look at the inquiries made in a particular state, not by individual cities.

For now, surrendering personal information is the cost for asking questions and getting answers quickly. All of the privacy measures are cumbersome.

“I speak about this at hacker conferences,” Professor Conti said, “and if they say something’s hard to use, believe me, it’s hard. There’s really no solution now — except abstinence. And if you choose not to use online tools, you’re not a member of the 21st century.”

E-mail: dwyer@nytimes.com

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 11, 2008
The About New York column on Wednesday, about the most popular search subjects on Google this year, misstated the speed of protons accelerated in the Large Hadron Collider, which made the top 10 list of searches in New York City. The protons travel at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light, not at the actual speed of light. And the column, quoting a Google spokeswoman, misstated the timing of a step that Google takes to disguise the identity of its users by deleting parts of their cookies from its logs. It does that after 18 months, not after nine.

December 10, 2008, 5:41 pm

Google Zeitgeist 2008

This year’s Google Zeitgeist, where the Internet giant tracks the most popular search terms, revealed that when it comes to soccer in the United States, the sun has not set on the British (make that the English) Empire.

Globally, the most popular search term was “Sarah Palin,” but in soccer in the United States Google reported that for sports-related terms Manchester United was No. 1, followed by Chelsea and then Chivas USA of Major League Soccer. Rounding out the top five were Barcelona and Arsenal.

According to Webster’s, zeitgeist, a German term, is “the spirit of the age; trend of thought and feeling in a period.”

Among the Big Four American sports, the top search team belonged to the N.F.L. Giants, followed by the N.B.A. Boston Celtics, baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies and the Detroit Red Wings of the N.H.L.

For an English take on the Google list, check out the Web site of the The Daily Telegraph of London.

2008年12月8日 星期一

Even Google Gets Frugal in the Recession


Even Google Gets Frugal in the Recession

Google headquarters.
Justin Sullivan / Getty

It's not just afternoon tea that's falling by the wayside at the famously employee-friendly firm. Although Google hasn't handed out pink slips to any of its 20,000 full-time employees, it has cut about half of its additional 10,000 contract workers in recent months. And, previously one of the biggest recruiters of MBAs on college campuses, Google is eschewing such pricey new hires, although it is still bringing on new engineers.

Most analysts forecast decent growth for Google in 2009. But Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research predicts that the firm will lay off anywhere from 10% to 15% of its employees in 2009 as a result of stagnating revenue. "This is not only for Google. This is for every internet company that has only one revenue source, which is advertising," says Chowdhry. By 2010, he estimates that the company will bring in $14.57 billion, down 4% from an estimated $15.71 billion in 2008. Sanford Bernstein's Lindsay, on the other hand, recently lowered his upbeat forecast for the search giant, but still expects a healthy 19.5% increase in revenue in 2009. (See pictures of "Life in the Googleplex".)

Lindsay's forecast is nowhere as dire as Chowdhry's. But both analysts are reacting to reports that the cost-per-click for internet ads has fallen an estimated 20% this year. Google and other internet advertising companies make much of their money by serving up ads that match keywords that people type into search engines. The rates for those ads are determined by advertisers, who bid for top placement. But advertisers have begun lowering their bids, because they aren't getting the returns (also known as conversion rates) that they expected. In late November, research firm eMarketer lowered the 15% increase in online ad spending for 2009 that it had projected in August to just under 9%.

Google's new CFO, Patrick Pichette, is leading the company's belt tightening. A former executive at Bell Canada, his impact was already evident in the firm's third-quarter results, which it announced in October. Although the company's revenue was slightly lower than analyst estimates, earnings were higher due to cost-cutting measures spearheaded by Pichette, such as decreasing the number of new hires. "Google has certainly gotten religion on expenses, and that is due largely to the new CFO," says Sanford Bernstein's Lindsay.

Now Google needs to focus on its core businesses like search, mail and web-based applications, instead of pouring endless resources into experimental projects that never turn a profit (such as its ill-fated virtual world Lively, which will close at the end of month). "If they could fix their expense management, surely they could fix their product development as well. Google has a very poor product development process," says Lindsay, who criticizes the firm for letting good products languish, while encouraging engineers to tackle newer and more exciting projects instead. For example, its Chrome browser got positive reviews when it was released this summer, but it hasn't been marketed or significantly updated since then.

CEO Eric Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to prune the company's offerings in the coming months. It will also try to monetize some previously ad-free products like Google Finance and News. Such efforts may help it weather the economic storm without resorting to layoffs, even if it doesn't bring its stock price any closer to the November 2007 high of $732 per share. (It closed on Wednesday at $279.) And it's still got some $14 billion in cash reserves. So for now, at least, the free lunches are still a go.

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