YouTube gets a rival

In a frontal assault on rival Google Inc. and its wildly popular online video division, YouTube Inc., entertainment company NBC Universal and media company News Corp. Thursday announced plans to launch an online video Web site that will offer premium video content from more than a dozen TV networks and two major film studios.

The deal allows the two companies to join forces with a formidable list of online partners such as AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo Inc., and includes large corporations that are already signing on as advertisers in the new venture.

"Anyone who believes in the value of ubiquitous distribution will find this announcement incredibly exciting," Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal, said in a statement. "This venture supercharges our distribution of protected, quality content to fans everywhere. Consumers get a hugely attractive aggregation of a wide range of content, and marketers get a novel way to connect with a large and highly engaged audience."

Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corp., said in a statement that the deal is a "game changer for Internet video."

"We'll have access to just about the entire U.S. Internet audience at launch," he said. "And for the first time, consumers will get what they want -- professionally produced video delivered on the sites where they live. We're excited about the potential for this alliance and we're looking forward to working with any content provider or distributor who wants to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity."

A spokesman for NBC Universal could not be reached immediately for comment.

The companies said the new site will launch this summer and will include thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips. AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo will serve as the new site's initial distribution partners under the deal.

Among the advertisers already signed up are Cadbury Schweppes, Cisco Systems Inc., Esurance, Intel Corp. and General Motors Corp.

The deal is noteworthy given last week's lawsuit by media company Viacom International Inc. against YouTube and Google. That US$1 billion lawsuit alleges that the two are infringing on Viacom's copyrights because almost 160,000 unauthorized video clips are available for viewing on YouTube.

What makes the NBC Universal deal with News Corp. and its partners different is that it includes a long list of content providers from the start; that could help avoid similar copyright disputes in the future.

Under the agreement, each of the distribution partners will feature the site's content in an embedded customized player. The new company will be located in New York and Los Angeles.

Full episodes and clips from current hit TV shows, including "Heroes," "24," "House," "My Name Is Earl," "Saturday Night Live," "Friday Night Lights," "The Riches," "30 Rock," "The Simpsons," "The Tonight Show," "Prison Break," "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader" and "Top Chef" -- plus hits from the studios' television libraries -- will be available for free, when the site launches.

Personalized video playlists, mashups, online communities and video searches will also be featured, according to the companies. Films such as Borat, Little Miss Sunshine, The Devil Wears Prada, The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy will also be available for viewing.

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