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YouTube Worth $1 BIllion? But Who Will Buy It?

By - July 24, 2006

Youtube-1

This NY Post item caught my eye – YouTube was the toast of Herb Allen’s Sun Valley conference, and therefore is now worth $1 billion. I don’t buy it. I don’t think the founders are smoking this shit, I think the media is – at least I hope that’s how it is. Why? Simple really. While YouTube is an amazing service, with extraordinary uptake, I’ve been told (and it seems obvious on first glance) that its core content is mostly copyrighted material. (I make this statement after being told as much by two very senior folks at major media companies who have studied content patterns on YouTube.)

Now, folks who own copyrights are waking up to the power of letting their copyrighted content flourish on YouTube, but that particular worm has not turned – content companies are very, very wary of letting this genie out of the bottle.

So who might buy YouTube? A major entertainment company, like the ones mentioned in the Post piece? No way. That’s buying a lawsuit or ten – if Time Warner bought YouTube, how long do you think it’d be before competitors sued to get their copyrighted stuff off TW’s new service? And once that stuff is cleared off (YouTube does make a point of taking down copyrighted material when asked, but policing that massive service is not exactly a hand-rolled affair), what is YouTube worth then?

It’s something of a catch 22, and augurs a waiting period of sorts. I personally believe YouTube proves that our culture wants desparately out of the traditional model of force fed television, and wants to move to a model where we participate in it – indeed, where we remix and share it. But change takes time, and Big Media Companies With Alot To Lose don’t change that quick.

What about a new media giant buying YouTube – Yahoo, say, or Google? Or Microsoft? Nope, nope, nope. Yahoo is a media company, and acts like one. Google doesn’t have it in its DNA to run a service like YouTube (though Google, with its Switzerland like approach to content, is the best fit, in my opinion). And Microsoft? They don’t need any more legal headaches over in Redmond right now.

It should be an interesting Fall season, that’s for sure. I’ll be watching.

(While I was out, there was news about YouTube updating its Terms of Use. Boing Boing has coverage here).


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49 thoughts on “YouTube Worth $1 BIllion? But Who Will Buy It?

  1. Narendra says:

    I think the copyright issue is overblown and was instrumental in allowing YouTube to hit critical mass. The product is actually much more analagous to the public photo sharing (pioneered by Webshots). The more critical question is the revenue piece because it just isn’t cheap to store and serve at the scale of YouTube.

    Any acquirer is buying the right to take on those costs which have no end in sight. As soon as they incorporate video ads you will have a significant drop in usage (and increased copyright liability).

  2. It’s worth a billion? And John won’t buy it. Me neither. Can’t afford it, too.
    But seriously: YT is interesting web real estate. Nice views, but built onto the equivalent of Chernobyl’s block II.

    Cleaning up the copyright conundrum needs either incredible manpower. Or a digital finger printing system, which could be built if the business model behind YT could generate cash in abundance. And if you succeed with the big clean up, what’s left is a pile of America’s somewhat funny Home Videos, with the Funniest later on sold to ABC. Still a nice property. Somewhat in the 45 Million Dollar range. So buyer beware.

  3. Finally someone with some sense. Let’s be boring capitalists shall we. How much revenue is You Tube generating vs. how much is it spending. Then lets take a multiple of revenue and use that as a starting point.

    From what I can learn on the web revenue they are currently at zero dollars of revenue. Not hard to do the math on that one. Expenses are currently $20 million plus a year for bandwidth, storage, and G&A.

    What’s the cost for a user to switch from You Tube to another “free” storage site – nothing.

    How long would it take to let the web know to switch – about 48 hours for the bloggers to get it out.

    Moral of the story, when building a business start with the buyer in mind and also start with a business model. It’s hard work, nights and weekends, however it eventually pays off.

    You Tube is not a must have, it’s a nice to have. Somewhere to go and upload a video for free. Nice to have’s aren’t worth a billion dollars.

  4. soxiam says:

    So then what does that mean for a media company like Fox who owns MySpace which happens to be the single largest subscriber of YouTube’s content?

  5. BenP says:

    The nature of their business is a liability due to the copyright law not being completely aired out. The online video market is huge and segmenting. Just take a look at a company like http://www.mymovienetwork.com for serious film makers.

  6. PostSchmost says:

    Wait a second. The NY Post claims YouTube is worth $1B and you feel the need to write a whole post on the topic? It’s the Post for chrissakes. It’d be like me writing an entire post refuting something Dvorak or Cringely wrote. It’s just not necessary.

  7. Laz says:

    The issue of copyrighted content is a risk, but it’s not as if rights holders would immediately be able to take advantage of the deeper pockets of a buyer like Time Warner should YouTube actually be sold. My understanding of YouTube’s practices indicates that they are within the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act — in other words, granting them immunity from copyright liability for hosting user-posted protected content.

  8. Chris Gilbey says:

    John is right. Copyright issues are a significant risk. And when the due diligence gets done, the lawyers will argue what the risk profile is – and there is one. People commenting here are very one dimensional-looking at the mediated content as the risk. I believe that the real risk is from the ‘consumer-created’ content that included synchronization of copyrighted music tracks without license. Music publishers are very clear on this stuff. Look for a suit filed by the Harry Fox Agency on their behalf.

  9. Jim says:

    Interesting market we’re in now, with Bebo TURNING DOWN (supposedly) a $500M+ offer. Not exactly the same space as YouTube, but it’s almost like 1999 all over again, with wildly overvalued companies attracting big media companies. Many, many companies found $100M+ cash offers back in those days and it seems like even bigger dollars are being poured out.

    YouTube is riding on the content popularity wave, mainly, kind of like MySpace, which is turning into junk. No one with half a brain however can see a business model on the horizon. At least Guba, Google Video, and others are trying to actually make money on their infrastructure and popularity and also sidestep the copyright issues.

    These companies seem to be playing a dangerous game where they are riding the threshold to insignificance. I.e., if Bebo or YouTube holds out for the big money TOO long they’ll simply get shoved out by other players or the total saturation of the marketplace (which is already happening).

  10. Condi says:

    “I personally believe YouTube proves that our culture wants desparately out of the traditional model of force fed television, and wants to move to a model where we participate in it – indeed, where we remix and share it.”

    But once television content is no longer “force fed” through broadcasts to millions of homes, the act of remixing it loses most of its appeal and subversive power.

  11. Steve says:

    The bigger problem is whether they can find a sustainable business model. I doubt Google adwords can sustain their monthly burn rates. Give it enough time and it’ll be like Webvan.

  12. Guy says:

    Interesting metaphor (or simile to be exact) you used to describe Google’s approach to content…”Switzerland like.”

    It’s amazing how well the Chinese government and Google’s swiss personality are getting along these days…

  13. Mario Aeby says:

    Could you explain the meaning of “though Google, with its Switzerland like approach to content, is the best fit, in my opinion”? As a Swiss citizen and no native english speaker, i just don’t get it ;-)

  14. Halli Jo says:

    It is obvious, of course E-Bay will pick it up like it did with Skype and others.

  15. Cibbuano says:

    We need YouTube to be independant… it’s the one of the few places on the web where I can be entertained with minimal hassle…

  16. Venky says:

    I agree with the previous comemnt. YouTube provides distraction free on demand video experience. something which the networks will never allow.. I’d pay 100$ more for lifetime youtube membership with my PC. I hope somebody takes my 100$ and frees me from all the junk advertising. My time is more valuable than watching stupid catfood commercials.

  17. YouTube, Digg & MySpace

    may just be purchased by ONE organization, thus merging into one interactive Super Power – and perhaps creating their own Search Engine with PPCs

    It would not be suprising if Murdoch is already thinking about buying them – and creating the next generation Web 2.O super media power.

    Ideally, it would be great if Google or Yahoo brought them.

  18. Josh says:

    What the hell do you mean “Google doesn’t have it in its DNA to run a service like YouTube?” Haven’t you been to video.google.com????

  19. maybe they could buy this site.. content given away by original authors.. http://starbase.globalpc.net/~xmx/starwreck.php

  20. Josh – You’re right, to a point. Google *does* have a YouTube competitor. Why hasn’t it taken off like YouTube?

  21. pwb says:

    The naysaying here is so tiresome.

    First, a good percentage of the content is Americas Funniest Home videos: http://nomansblog.typepad.com/no_mans_blog/2006/07/youtube_trends_.html

    Second, the copyrighted stuff is a seriously inferior version and very possibly protected by fair use.

    Third, this is really not like Napster at all where people were getting perfect versions of things that they would otherwise need to pay for, for free.

    Whether it’s worth a billion now is certainly debateable but let’s at least keep the conversation intelligent.

  22. whizkid77 says:

    Think about it this way – cable tv penetration is about 59.2%. American families are paying anywhere from $30 to $100 a month it. With the ubiquity of reality-tv everywhere, evidence shows people are willing to accept, and even prefer, home-made style content. Would you rather pay $100 a month for cable, or $100 a year for YouTube hi-def? I’m sure YouTube can convert at least some users.

  23. chris says:

    John, I haven’t read through all the comments yet, so someone may have said this already, and you may have responded. Sorry.

    I agree with you that YouTube’s value is blown enormously out of proportion by the media. Big Media companies are shooting themselves in the feet time and time again by not enthusiastically embracing their active, influencer audience of editors, remixers, posters and bloggers. YouTube is another example of a market that Big Media does not really understand.

    My issue is with your comment about Google. Of all people, I am surprised that you wrote, “Google doesn’t have it in its DNA to run a service like YouTube (though Google, with its Switzerland like approach to content, is the best fit, in my opinion)” Google already owns and runs Google Video, and I have no idea how successful it is so far, but I love it. I love the embed code option (like YouTube). I love the file format conversion and download (unique, and great, for Mac, PC, PSP, and iPod). It also riddled with copywritten content. Maybe more, from what I can tell, than YouTube, mainly I suppose, because they don’t have the extreme user base of YouTube.

    So, I guess my point is, if Google is already dabbling in this market, why not buy YouTube and create a real revenue stream out of this huge user base, while working with Big Media to find an acceptable model for copywritten content. It would seem to me that revenue sharing from ads like adsense, or Google’s new video ads, would be acceptable for copyright holders. Also, to be honest, I would absolutely be willing to pay for YouTube if the use was unrestricted and the content was good quality.

  24. JP says:

    It would be difficult for any company that purchases YT to revise the business model without affecting consumer loyalty and adoption. The competition is only going to get worse and having a large user base is not as valuable as it once was.

    What would I be expecting? A Napster-style online movement where people begin to utilize online storage companies (e.g. omnidrive, Gdrive?, etc) to store their data and then use APIs to distribute it to any one willing to use it. Then, you’ll get content aggregation companies that pull/access content from people’s online storage (permission-based, of course) and organizes it so it can be searched and discovered. YT should look into this.

  25. Dorrian says:

    My take on Google Video’s lack of success is the holding period on videos. I took a shot of my daughter and uploaded it there so mom could see it. I wanted to send it then to my mom, but Google told me to come back in 24 hours to check if it was up yet. I haven’t been back to see if that’s changed, but they’d be way better off letting it run and ripping it down in 24 hours if there’s a problem. Youtube knew from the beginning that instant gratification (including being one of the first sites to start a clip within miliseconds of hitting play) was key.

  26. Video content on the web has proven to be something that people want and watch.

    One of my biggest problems with viewing and spending significant time on a sitelike youtube is the horrible quality of the videos. As soon as we are able to integrate our TV and PC in the living room and view these vids on our high def screens you will have a biz model. It is just around the corner…..can they wait that long?

  27. Chris says:

    The amount of reporting on YouTube is staggering. It just goes to prove how self-obsessed the Media is with regards to itself.

    I’ve worked since ’99 in the Internet Video industry and I know first hand how expensive it is to operate an offering such as YouTube.

    Believe me, they are losing money at a torrid rate. I’d guesstimate their monthly burn rate at about $1.5-2MM/month. There’s no evidence to suggest that advertisers are interested in placing in-stream ads on those videos, due to the copyright issues on the interesting stuff and the low-quality content on everything else. Also unresolved legal issue on whether YouTube is protected under the Safe Harbor act, which is being challanged right now via a recent lawsuit.

    Do I think YouTube is worth $1 Billion, no. Whether someone else out there is dumb enough to pay that much – who knows. However, I think YouTube has peaked in terms of “funny-money” valuation and this rose will gradually loose it’s bloom.

  28. Hey all. What google does is what You Tube does. I am sure many would have no clue what I was talking about. Does Google own any content Hell no.. What abt splitting revnue with the content provider/ copy right owners no one is going to refuse a free check coming. Its hard. Try Guba and you know what I am talking here.

  29. cfw says:

    Two steps to solve (or mitigate) the copyright issues. First, set up somenthing like the BSA (Business Software Alliance) or ASCAP for the videos. Offer to license content, for reasonable rates, to be arbitrated. Then, owner can choose the “take it down” option or arbitration (with reasonable costs of arb paid by YouTube, if it wants to keep the product up).

    Second, set up an insuarnace program with respect to privacy/copyright claims. Include a provision for payment and performace bonds. Then, the disgruntled customers or content suppliers have someone to shoot at besides (or along with) YT. And, the insurance companies are good at litigation – they can keep things under control, as to valuations, and fair use issues. YT gets better reputation. Avoids the Napster appearance of being a pirate.

    Would insurance or bonds be too expensive? Not likely. Easy to measure number of views. Most content is going to have not many views.

  30. tis says:

    I highly doubt the earlier statement that “the copyrighted stuff is a seriously inferior version and very possibly protected by fair use.” Fair use applies only in very limited circumstances and YouTube’s commercial nature almost certainly precludes any claim of fair use.

  31. dumber says:

    Well, the YT thing smells like “who the dumber” game. As long as there is someone dumber, we can keep it going

  32. Stephen Munday says:

    Maybe this is what is happening:

    Old Media talk up value of YT. Even though it has no revenue to speak of, these inflate guess-projections become the received wisdom about YT’s actual value. The same Old Media then say – “Look at that billion dollar outfit profiting from our copyrights! We want $1 billion of damages!” You build the straw man up to knock him down.

    Or maybe I am just too cynical…

  33. Greg P says:

    YT exemplifies why more than ever, the more focused media entities, centered around communities of interest, have much greater revenue potential.

    Broadbandsports.com is just one example, but attracts numerous of advertisers looking to put their message in front of this audience. Entertainment, Humor, ect…

    YT, with all the surrounding white noise of copyright issues, will never be attractive to advertisers.

  34. JoeyC says:

    (Keep in mind I skipped the comments before I wrote mine)

    The thing about it all is… was MySpace worth much when conceived? No. I remember a friend showing it to me earlier on, and but a few hundred members? Now, everyone and their grandparents have a MySpace. I set my “Network” on Myspace to “everyone” on the website, just to see how many there are. The total amount of members so far is 97,648,707. And the estimated amount of worldwide internet users is 690 Billion as of 2005-ish. You want to tell me thats not too many people?

    Any business: from airlines to car manufacturing, need a niche.

    There aren’t too many places online to store videos; at least any sites that are as popular as YouTube. Once its gotten that customer base which is amazingly large, there is no worry about competition or what have you. Everyone would be on YouTube, and thats it.

    NewsCorp (News.com) bought MySpace for a substantial amount of money; 28 million (or something like that; can’t remember off the top of my head). And MySpace is free. Where does all of the money come from? Movies, etc, that want to launch ad campaigns for thousands and thousands of dollars on MySpace, and want to get their products out there to the almost one hundred million people on MySpace. All it would take for YouTube to become a huge success would be to launch a similar advertising method.

    -Joey

  35. sue perpich says:

    May I have a number for your corp headquarters?

    Do you make money through subscriptions or through advertisers?

    Who are your advertisers?

    Congrats to you!

  36. sivasankaran says:

    A funny story on youtube

    Youtube is one of the most popular video sharing sites on the net. A year ago, co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen were in between jobs, a pair of
    twentysomething geeks running up big credit card debts as they tooled around a garage trying to develop an easy way for people to share homemade videos on the Web.

    Hurley says, “I do not want to work hard. I want to
    live a soft life. I want to sleep for three hours every afternoon. I do not want to stay awake the whole day so that I can get a few grand at the end of each month. That is why I choose to live off the net. I am too lazy to try and survive in the real
    world. That is why I did not bother to hold down a job
    though my credit card debt soared. On the net things are handed to me. The idea of youtube came to me from a dinner party with a half-dozen friends in the greatest city in the world San Francisco. It was January, 2005, and we
    couldn’t figure out a good solution. Sending the clips around by e-mail was a bust: The e-mails kept getting rejected because they were so big. Posting the videos online was a headache, too. So we created a site and put in basic software.

    “What I and Steve came up with is a Web site, now
    called YouTube, that has become an Internet phenomenon. Show the honey and the bees will flock to it. We worked for about six hours each week for two months designing youtube. We had the idea to create a community around the video.
    Once that was done we knew that tons of millions of dollars would just flow into our laps after a buyour which we expect to happen very soon. This a click and eyeballs business. We do l not have to work hard. In the old economy you have to work really hard for a lousy promotion which might give you a few more grand if your employer is very generous. On the net once you have the idea magic will happen. That is what happened at Paypal, MySpace and Skype. None of the founders and investors had to meet revenue targets, silly deadlines, work long, exhausting hours on the net to become rich.

    “The basic software that I and Chen designed allows
    people to post almost anything they like on YouTube in minutes. Now we are sitting at home on our arses waiting for a buyout. I expect to make at least 400 millon dollars personally. Content has been handed to us on a silver platter. We do not have to slog hard to create content like a poorly paid online journalist who makes a lousy 450k each year. We do not have to experience daily financial pressure
    because our site does not get enough readers.

    “We have it easy. The reason why we never held a job for more than a year was because we felt that a rope was attached to out necks. We would have had to stay chained in an office with four walls. It is such a pain to get up and run for the sake of a few grand at the end of the month. the content that we offer is free. That is easy for us to that as we do not have to work to create it. Copyrighted work is there for our users to copy and paste as that is work which we have the right to copy. Other content comes from common folk wanting to share stuff.

    “Revenues will come from advertising. the net is a click and eyeballs business. The clicks wil come from youtube’s milllions of eyeballs that we have not worked for. It is unearned traffic. We do not have to sweat and bleed for it. That is the privilege of poorly paid online journalists. I do not have to worry about losing my job as my content does not get get enough page views. I do not have to take the initiative about my own life. I do not have to discipline myself. If I get up at nine in the morning and feel drowsy then I do not have to drag myself our of bed to work for the sake of a few measly grand at the end of the month. If I want gourmet food all I have to do is clap my hands once the buyout happens.

    The millions of youtube.com visitors will ensure that this will never happen. I can simply focus on trying to build relationships with my tall, tough women friends in San Francisco. We hang out together. We work out
    together. We sleep in the afternoon together.”

  37. Cuong says:

    Who say youtube’s revenue is zero?

    http://plentyoffish.wordpress.com/2006/08/24/youtube-is-already-wildly-profitable/

    Youtube has been running adsense on nearly every single page of its site for a while now. I was able to do a test campaign that ran on Youtube and was displayed at the rate of 500,000 pageviews an hour for the average price of 30 cents a cpm.

    This article says youtubes pageviews are around 250 million a day. If that is even remotely accurate youtube is making a LOT of money. Lets say only 200 million pageviews a day can have ads. That gives you $300/million * 200 = $60,000/day or $1.8 million a month in revenues from adsense.

  38. Mike says:

    Google to buy out Youtube for 1.65 billion dollars. Good game.

  39. Ashwin says:

    Well, i guess you (original writer of the post) had thought wrong. As YouTube is now officially bought by Google for some $1.6 billion.

    Well i dont think Google would pay more than a billion dollars if they dont think its worth it.

  40. bal-kes says:

    Well, the YT thing smells like “who the dumber” game. As long as there is someone dumber, we can keep it going

  41. Michael Chessman says:

    Youtube is a highly unreliable place to place your content or to build up a library. They are trigger happy and have a poor business model. In addition owners of material could gain revenues by placing ad content on their own sites and making all video in archives available and promoting music videos and theatrical trailers as a competent way to provide ad inf to promote artists they serve. We have seen them destroy entire libraries of posted high quality content, on a whim. Post elsehwre is our stern advice on youtube dealings.

  42. Michael Chessman says:

    Youtube is a highly unreliable place to place your content or to build up a library. They are trigger happy and have a poor business model. In addition owners of material could gain revenues by placing ad content on their own sites and making all video in archives available and promoting music videos and theatrical trailers as a competent way to provide ad inf to promote artists they serve. We have seen them destroy entire libraries of posted high quality content, on a whim. Post elsewhere is our stern advice on youtube dealings.

  43. mdb says:

    “We all now know that something radical has got to be done to turn back the tide of global warming. It is our hope and belief that the winner of The Virgin Earth Challenge will help to reverse the collision course our beautiful world is currently on.” Sir Richard Branson, 09.02.2007

    Hi!
    http://www.MillionDollarBorrower.com is launched!
    Perhaps the idea isn’t so crazy after all? Anyway, I’m gonna make some calls, send some emails and see if I can get some press interest!

    What will I do with the money?
    Design what I called “CO2 Neutralizer” (developing a plan for the final product) & submit a commercially viable design capable of achieving the removal of significant volumes of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases
    You dream ‘CO2 Neutralizer?’ I have it! Check http://www.MillionDollarBorrower.com

  44. Motiono says:

    Youtube surely was not worth the price tag Google paid for it and they know it as well however it was not really the money in the short term, this was more of a, elimination of a competition for Google, for once Google recognized the fact that Youtube is rising faster than Google Video, and Google’s intentions were to make Google video a household name, they also did not want a rising star that could result in news articles around the globe showing competition which would be a threat to Google’s stock’s value.

    I suppose it was more of a pyscological purchase rather than value based, i don’t believe Youtube is delivering any profits for Google, if anything Youtube is probably consuming so much bandwidth that they are probably spending all of their revenues on bandwidth costs, but of course there is also the factor that Google has all the bandwidth and space stroage Youtube may need at a very reasonable cost, other video sharing sites such as Motiono have tackled this issue by outsourcing their video serving technologies to other companies, Motiono.com itself is probably the most efficient business model there is on the web to this date, it is operated by a single person ( Sumer Kolcak ) and in terms of competitiveness against Google and Youtube, well.. not really a competitor but they do their part in terms of being an alternative source when Youtube is not functioning properly or when the users want to embed a video on their myspace or blog instantly without having to wait for their video to be convert and processed ( as they currently do with Youtube and Google video ) , because Motiono converts and process the video while it uploads, and Youtube does not, this gives an edge to Motiono over Youtube, however Motiono does not stand a chance when it comes to having the power Google has and the competitiveness Google can create, Of course in the universe of the web, Google is a GOD, and motiono is simply a tiny star trying to glow just a little bit, as for the price tag on Youtube, well google made the correct move even if the pricing was high, because the growth potential was there and the threat of competition was there, so what else could google possible have done? jus seat there and pray? No, google has the most professional businessmen in the whole universe, they are thinking 24/7 in dozens globally, water sleeps, google does not. I think Google is an awesome company even if they sometimes make competition a little bit unfair because Youtube is able to operate the way it does due to backing of Google, sites such as Motiono have difficulties competing with the unlimited resources Youtube has. But everyone deserves their fair share of sucess, and Youtube is likely to blend into Google Video in time.

  45. Jon says:

    So this was what YouTube was like in 06. My how things have changed. Oh and by the way, “Google doesn’t have it in its DNA to run a service like YouTube” Ha.

  46. Wnh says:

    that its core content is mostly copyrighted material. (I make this
    statement after being told as much by two very senior folks at major
    media companies who have studied content patterns on YouTube.)

    So you’ve never been there, but take this statement at face value? Typical blogger. Oh the content industry told me so, so it must be true.

    “Google doesn’t have it in its DNA to run a service like YouTube”
    Foot in mouth moment in history.

    I bet you supported SOPA/PIPA. When elements of them get passed bit by bit (since the whole bag of worms got stopped) Ill keep this site in mind as I am abusing the provision of the average jackass to claim copyright and get the site taken down, and finances cut off.

    “being told as much by two very senior folks at major media companies who have studied content patterns on YouTube.” – Stupid tool.

  47. Ken Kelso says:

    Youtube is easily worth 30 billion.
    Its the 3rd most visited site on the web behind Facebook and Google.
    If WhatApp is worth 19 billion, Youtube has to be worth atleast 30 billion.
    Every video i watch on Youtube, their’s advertisement before the video.
    The people who sold Youtube to Google 1.65 billion in 2006

    Big Big Big mistake. If they waited 5 more years, they could have sold it for easily 20 billion.
    The other thing about Youtube, their’s no competition. I don’t know of any other site like Youtube.
    Where Google has to compete with Bing and Yahoo.