Music moguls' latest strategy: Zig then zag

The big four labels said to be discussing a partnership with Hulu. But is this the answer to their tech dilemma? Hardly.

In July 2001, Napster got shut down by the recording industry. Had the music moguls known how history would evolve over the next six and a half years, I wonder whether they would have tried a different tack.

I know, it's an endless bar debate. But watching the music establishment play catch-up, with its continuing series of zigs and zags, don't you just know these guys wish they had the opportunity for a do-over? Who wouldn't? But life doesn't work that way. So instead, it's been a slow (and unsatisfying) grapple with technology.

A few days before Christmas Warner Music began to pull its videos from YouTube over a licensing fees impasse. Probably not a very effective negotiating tack given that YouTube/Google needs Warner less than Warner needs YouTube/Google.

But events are moving fast. Today comes word, courtesy of the Financial Timesthat the four big labels plan to come up with their own destination site on the Internet. To wit:

Plans under discussion include: a partnership with Hulu, the online television and film joint venture between News Corp and NBC Universal; the creation of a premium service on YouTube, Google's video sharing site; or, a standalone venture between some or all of the four largest recorded music groups.

Representatives of two music companies, who would not be named, said they were in discussions with Hulu, adding that no partnership announcement was imminent but that the site appeared to be the favoured partner. "If it happens at all it will be with Hulu," one said.

Then again, they might just as easily decide to fall back in love with YouTube, pending a better deal. Or not.

One parting thought: I still contend that the recording industry would be in a lot better shape today had it not ordered its lawyers to nuke Napster at the dawn of the digital music file swapping. Of course, we'll never really know. To be continued.

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