How Mobile Operators Could Beat YouTube

smt.jpgVodafone apparently plans to launch a user-generated video service at CeBIT in March, which will let users upload their own videos from their handsets, then pay them every time somebody else watches it. That sounds like a great idea… though 3 UK beat them to the punch more than a year ago with its quite popular SeeMeTV service, which sounds like the, uh, basis of inspiration (to be kind) for this service.

Vodafone copying the idea isn’t such a big deal, really. But what’s sort of interesting here is that operators have a real chance to do something substantial in this space. When it comes to user-generated video, YouTube is clearly the 800-pound gorilla. But it’s going to screw up mobile for itself. Instead of pursuing an operator-agnostic strategy and figuring out how to make money from an open service, YouTube has grabbed the short-term money by getting into an exclusive deal with Verizon to deliver a limited version of its site to the operator’s customers. It’s actively blocking sites that make its videos available to mobile users, presumably to protect not just its Verizon deal, but whichever other operators it inks country-exclusive deals with. What it’s really doing is limiting its audience, and its reach in mobile. By cutting off the vast majority of mobile users, it’s going to eventually make itself irrelevant to them.

Here’s where operators can come in. The SeeMeTV model has already proven popular with users, and it’s a great idea for operators, since they’re essentially getting free content. But what they need to realize is that these services, on their own, aren’t going to do much as competitive advantages — that is, the number of users that decide from which operator to buy service because of them, is going to be very, very low. While people might like SeeMeTV, it’s not likely to come at the top of their “reasons to switch to 3 list”, and likewise for this new Vodafone service.

Given that, why not band together and create a common, shared platform for a user-generated video service? It would have two key benefits over YouTube: first, the payout element, and second, it’s made to be browsed from a mobile device. There’s little value in restricting these video services by operator; it’s just a new twist on the walled garden. But banding together would not only save infrastructure resources, it would widen the pool of content creators and viewers by taking on an audience YouTube shuns. Quite often, operators’ attempts to replace popular internet sites with their own services are misguided (and awful). But if YouTube is going to ignore mobile users, there’s no reason for operators to not get in there and take the user-generated video space for themselves and their customers.

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