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Google plans cheapo YouTube programs

More OK Go, not so Mad Men

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Google is planning a "major overhaul" of YouTube, with changes said to include professionally produced programming.

The search giant is reported to be planning to spend up to $100m commissioning "low-cost" content designed exclusively for YouTube's web audience.

Content is planned as part of a package of changes that is expected also to highlight sets of channels around specific topics - sports, for example.

The idea, according to The Wall St Journal, is to keep eyeballs on the site longer and to help YouTube - and Google - compete with broadcast and cable TV by keeping Google's primary revenue engine of online advertising cranking. Google is not commenting on the WSJ story.

Google is also likely looking for ways to help YouTube keep in with music lockers and TV and film streaming services, especially given that it has Google TV plugged in on the client end with little content to show viewers.

The studios who'd normally served up shows to Google TV are extremely reluctant to let anybody outside their own tight media circle play or stream their content, especially if they stand to lose royalties or risk seeing the existing audience - and advertisers' money - disappear online.

If the claimed changes at YouTube are coming, then it would mark a major departure for YouTube, a site that has made its name as a source for video created for free and uploaded by ordinary members of the public.

There's a ton of non user-generated content on YouTube now, but this is mostly from media companies posting music videos or snatches of their TV shows designed to drive you to the main program on TV.

Google's strategy is not new in the annals of tech and web history. Every few years somebody at Microsoft re-discovers the idea that original content would help drive traffic to MSN and keep people watching Microsoft's site for just a tad longer.

Invariably, these efforts are a tiny drop in the massive ocean of web viewer stats and online media content, and have failed to move the needle on MSN's market share.

At $100m, Google's clearly going for the kind of cheap viral programming that it hopes can help open eyeballs. It's going for the kind of quirky OK Go type video that helped make YouTube's name last decade and that turned the treadmill pop nerds into a minor cultural phenomenon.

If Google had wanted to court real writing and production talent, the kind of talent owned by the studios and that moves the needle on audience numbers and earns viewer cred, then its $100m budget would have pulled in it just one show - Mad Men. And they'd be re-runs. ®

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