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If you think about it for a second, chances are pretty good that someone has recently sent you a link to a video on YouTube.com. That company is at the center of what's called viral video. It's spreading among friends on the Internet.
YouTube claims that every single day another 60,000 videos are uploaded to its site. The company has become so popular that NBC just announced a deal to promote its network programming on the website.
NPR's Laura Sydell reports on YouTube's meteoric rise.
LAURA SYDELL reporting:
Like most Silicon Valley success stories, YouTube started in a garage. Founder Steve Chen and Chad Hurley got frustrated when they were trying to share video with friends on the Internet. It was too complicated, says Hurley.
Mr. CHAD HURLEY (Co-Founder, YouTube.com): That's when we saw, you know, an opportunity to solve a problem for people. And that's how to share personal video clips. How do you, you know, create a service that empowers people with the ability to easily share these video clips with one another?
SYDELL: Hurley and Chen officially launched YouTube in December of 2005. So far, they've raised more than $11 million in venture capital. Chen says now at any time there are 70 million videos posted on the site. Most of the videos are made by a pool of people largely under 30.
Ms. BROOKE BRODACK (YouTube Contributor): YouTube is like honey mustard. And users are like a chicken nugget. And they go together very well. Just like (unintelligible).
SYDELL: That's Brooke Brodack, known as Brookers to her fans. The 20-year-old receptionist from Massachusetts got so popular, one of her videos was viewed a million and a half times, that she's now got a Hollywood contract to produce television content.
The site's fare ranges from the very silly, teenagers lip-synching to pop music, to the deadly serious, like this video of a bombing made by American soldiers in Iraq.
(Soundbite of air raid siren and explosions)
Viewers can chat and comment on what they've seen. YouTube's Hurley says they've had videos from the ground on other big news stories.
Mr. HURLEY: What we're enabling, beyond creating a stage for people to be entertained and be discovered, truly creating a new way for people to communicate ideas and to allow people to share their personal experiences. So if that's you with your camera in Walt Disney World, or a soldier in Iraq, you can truly see an event or a place through someone's eyes.
SYDELL: Like other services where average people share content, YouTube has run into some copyright issues.
(Soundbite of TV show “Saturday Night Live”)
Mr. ANDY SAMBERG (Actor): (Singing) Lazy Sunday, wake up in the late afternoon. Call Parnell just to see how he doing. Hello, what up, Parn? (unintelligible)
Mr. CHRIS PARNELL (Actor): (Singing) Yo, Samberg, what's (unintelligible)
Mr. SAMBERG: (Singing) Are you thinking what I'm thinking? (Unintelligible)
SYDELL: YouTube got the attention of traditional media when a video of a Saturday Night Live skit called Lazy Sunday showed up on the site. The spoof featured show regulars Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg rapping about eating cupcakes and going to see the Chronicles of Narnia. It was viewed millions of times. Nonetheless, the network asserted its copyright and asked YouTube to take it down.
YouTube founders have no interest in being another Napster, the file-sharing network brought down by a series of copyright lawsuits by the music industry. Co-founder Hurley.
Mr. HURLEY: We're developing tools and putting processes in place to control what's going on on the site. We ban repeat infringers. We've also built an automated process that makes it easier for copyright holders to notify us of infringement.
SYDELL: But NBC had to acknowledge that the viewing of its Lazy Sunday video online brought the show more attention than it had seen in years. Yesterday, NBC announced a deal with YouTube to preview segments of its shows on the website.
But Brian Haven, a senior media analyst at Forrester Research, says the challenge to traditional television comes from consumers who are starting to look to one another for entertainment. Its part of a trend he calls social computing.
Mr. BRIAN HAVEN (Senior Media Analyst, Forrester Research): Now, what our research is telling us is that youth are more naturalized to networked technology and general trust in peers is on the rise. So venues for consumer- created content are tapping into these emerging trends in consumer behavior.
SYDELL: YouTube does face challenges. Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google are also making it possible for amateurs to store video on their sites. And while YouTube won't reveal its books, Haven doesn't believe they are profitable yet. And their costs are rising, because they need more and more bandwidth to upload so much video. There's also a question about just how long this trend will last.
Clifford Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford University, says people may not always be enamored with each other's amateur videos.
Professor CLIFFORD NASS: (Professor of Communications, Stanford University): In the early days when anyone could make a phonograph record, you could go to Coney Island, famously, and, you know, record your record; everyone did it. And, over time, people said, you know, I'd really rather listen to talented people doing this.
SYDELL: Still, Nass and others believe that the availability of high-speed Internet and cheap video cameras have changed something about the way we communicate. And while everyone may not become a star, communicating with one another through moving images is likely to be a permanent part of modern life.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
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