YouTube and the William Morris Agency Llc. (WMA), the Hollywood talent and literary agency, are close to signing a deal that would place the company’s clients in made-for-the-Web productions.
The deal would underscore the ways distribution models are evolving on the Internet. Already, some actors and other celebrities are creating their own content for the Web, bypassing the often arduous process of developing a programme for a television network. The YouTube deal would give WMA clients an ownership stake in the videos they create for the website.
Two people close to the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized by their companies to speak publicly about the deal, described the arrangement as YouTube’s most sweeping attempt to date to add professionally produced videos to its website, which mostly features amateur videos uploaded by users. The people cautioned that the deal had not been completed. Representatives for YouTube and WMA declined to comment on Wednesday evening.
The addition of videos by A-list actors, musicians and other stars would bolster YouTube’s identity as a next-generation entertainment source and, more important for the site’s parent company, Google Inc., could help answer a riddle it is trying to solve: how to wring cash from the hundreds of millions of videos it hosts free. YouTube’s audience is enormous; the measurement firm comScore Inc. reported that 100 million viewers in the US visited the site in October. But in part because of copyright concerns, the site does not place ads on, or next to user-uploaded videos. So, it makes money from only a fraction of the videos—the ones that are posted by its partners, including media companies such as CBS Corp. and Universal Music Group.
The firm has shown interest in becoming a home for premium video in recent months by upgrading its video player and adding full-length episodes of television shows. But some major television networks and other media companies are still hesitant about showing their content on the site. Warner Music Group’s videos were removed from the site last month in a dispute over pay for its content.
Fred Davis, a senior partner at Davis, Shapiro, Lewit and Hayes, an entertainment law firm that advises digital media companies, including YouTube, said professionally produced content was especially important to companies such as YouTube as it could attract users in ways that amateur productions could not.
By becoming a partner with a talent agency, YouTube is demonstrating that it wants to be a major destination for Hollywood content. Its sponsorship of a live concert in November, YouTube Live, sent the same message.
©2009/The New York Times