Money can't buy you love, said the Beatles, but maybe they didn't anticipate the financial daisy-cutter bomb that is a 21st-century multinational. With the news that News Corp and NBC plan to build a rival to YouTube, it's time to ask the big question: can big corporations buy the zeitgeist or will they inevitably screw up?
YouTube has every human on the planet with eyeballs and a first-world paycheck glued to it in office hours. Everyone is afraid of Google's new armament. 20th Century Fox can see the drones watching The Simpsons on YouTube, but it must give it quite some itch to know it's not reaming in more cash as they do.
The News Corp/NBC platform will offer free, full-length films and television shows, with the added bonus that the content is strictly legal. But is the YouTube audience really sat in their swivel chairs feeling slightly mournful that they may be infringing a copyright? Probably not. Will they react with feverish excitement at the thought of ad-supported content? Er, no.
So what is left for the Me-Too Tubes? How can a YouTube rival garner similar success? Well, option one would have been to buy YouTube, but Google already did that -- stuffing it gracelessly into its podgy little mouth and patting its grossly distended belly.
Option two is for NBC and News Corp to do what Microsoft did with the Zune and add extra features no one really wants to an existing successful product -- in the Zune's case, the iPod. Often this doesn't work -- it certainly didn't with the Zune. They could also follow Microsoft's lead, and pay mindless stooges to infiltrate university campuses extolling the brilliance of Me-Too Tube. Again, this method failed for Zune, presumably because the word-of-mouth theory doesn't work in university -- 90 per cent of the 'receivers' are too drunk to recall what was virally marketed at them.
They could try other approaches. Microsoft's assualt on the relatively 'cool' Netscape browser was surprisingly effective -- although it did have the small advantage of inextricably tying the browser to an operating system like an ugly barnacle. Me-Too Tube has the mastodonic weight of copyright law on its side, though -- it seems smart to set up a competitor to show willing and then go nuclear with the lawyers. Viacom doesn't exactly look like the aggrieved party in its mammoth suit against YouTube.
It's too early to tell whether Me-Too Tube has any chance of emulating the success of its nemesis. But there is something incredibly boring and sad about giant companies who constantly chase the fleeing tailcoats of the latest Internet trends. Like the kid who leant over and copied you in art class, News Corp/NBC are the archetypal corporation -- lumbering and so very uncool. -Chris Stevens