Interesting piece on Slate today about YouTube, the supposed grand-champion of user-generated content, which is of course the basis of the Web 2.0 revolution. According to analysts best guesses, the site loses around half-a-billion dollars a year:
YouTube’s troubles are surprisingly similar to those faced by newspapers. Just like your local daily, the company is struggling to sell enough in advertising to cover the enormous costs of storing and distributing its content. Newspapers have to pay to publish and deliver dead trees; YouTube has to pay for a gargantuan Internet connection to send videos to your computer and the millions of others who are demanding the most recent Dramatic Chipmunk mash-up. Google doesn’t break out YouTube’s profits and losses on its earnings statements, and of course it’s possible that Credit Suisse’s estimates are off. But if the analysts are at all close, YouTube, which Google bought in 2006, is in big trouble. As Benjamin Wayne, the CEO of the rival video-streaming company Fliqz, pointed out in a recent article for Silicon Alley Insider, not even Google can long sustain a company that’s losing close to half a billion dollars a year.
Of course, the implication of YouTube titanic failure to capitalize on it’s massive traffic have repercussions for the rest of the new Web 2.0 superstars, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, et al, who have yet to figure out how to make money beyond having people give it to them to own a piece:
YouTube’s problems point to a larger difficulty for many Web startups: “User-generated content” is proving to be a financial albatross. Two years ago, Time magazine named “you” its Person of the Year for doing your small part in fueling the Web 2.0 revolution. The magazine argued that by collecting and distributing the creations of millions of individuals, the Web is upending the way we learn about what’s going on in the world around us. There’s no doubt this is true; you experienced the presidential inauguration through millions of pictures captured by ordinary people, and a lot of what you learn these days comes from articles put together by the anonymous hordes who power Wikipedia. Yet even though they’ve changed the way we live, sites that collect and share content produced by all of us haven’t done the one thing many tech evangelists said they’d doâ€”make a ton of money. Or, in many cases, any money.