YouTube gets into Top Gear

With the BBC launching its own Top Gear YouTube channel, Tim Hoang looks at the reasons for this move into video-sharing sites.

YouTube, the Google-owned video-sharing site has often been criticised for failing to respect the IPs of content owners. Organisations including the English Premier League and Viacom have issued lawsuits against YouTube in the past. However, other companies are less hostile to the site due to its popularity. According to ComScore, in January, 2008 alone, nearly 79 million viewers watched more than three billion user-posted videos on the site.

With such a large audience, it with little surprise that the BBC has chosen to launch its own YouTube channel dedicated to one of its more popular television shows.

The BBC is no stranger to YouTube. In March 2007, the UK broadcaster launched two BBC-branded entertainment channels on the online video sharing site. Viewers are able to watch exclusively commissioned promotional content linked to popular shows such as Doctor Who and Life on Mars. The part-advertising funded channels hosted video diaries featuring the likes of Doctor Who stars, David Tennant and Freema Agyeman and Life on Mars’ John Simm.

With the success of iPlayer already under its belt, the BBC chose Top Gear as the first BBC programme to have a dedicated channel on YouTube.


Platform for other content

The clips will feature celebrity interviews and reviews from presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. Their other shows, including Jeremy Clarkson’s MotorWorld and Richard Hammond Meets Evel Knievel will also feature.

"Top Gear has a massive audience across the globe so we thought it was time it had its own place on YouTube. The BBC Worldwide YouTube channel has already proven its value to users, having generated millions of views since its launch in March last year,” said Simon Danker, director of Digital Media for BBC Worldwide.

"We’re now expanding our portfolio of YouTube channels to reflect the massive online popularity of certain programme brands and to give fans of shows like Top Gear a dedicated destination on YouTube," Danker continued.

Online and offline mutually beneficial

Many are questioning whether YouTube is a relevant space for the broadcaster to take part with many firms perceived to be creating content for the site solely to be seen doing so. However, there is evidence to suggest that rather than having a negative effect on traditional audience figures, online and offline content actually complement each other.

Following the Olympic Games this year, NBC revealed that online video increased the network’s TV ratings. Half of all Olympic online viewers used the Web to catch up with sports they had missed. 40 per cent of those questioned used the Web to watch events that they would like to view again.

“Some firms are using new media channels such as YouTube for the sake of it and get their return elsewhere. However, it can help engage with usually a younger and Internet savvy audience, who do not necessarily watch conventional television,” said Xavier Adam of European marketing network, AMC.

Expect others to follow

The media industry is changing and the way viewers consume their media has seen a fundamental shift. Eric Kuhn, founding partner of new media consultancy, KRO consulting, expects more broadcasters to follow suit.

“YouTube is a great way to market a show. A YouTube link and clip is easy to send around and also embed on other sites. Shows could easily go "viral" and spread around the Web, being viewed by millions. 

“However, it will not only be broadcasters that begin looking to YouTube. An organisation’s presence on YouTube allows a creative way to engage with, and expand, a fan base.  Companies who have found great success on YouTube have ranged from Smirnoff to the Asia Society. There is nothing like the power of video and moving images to engage people. A quick and funny video can be priceless for advertising,” said Kuhn.

“Look at the Vodka Smirnoff "Tea Partay" commercial, which has been viewed by over 4 million viewers.  The company did not promote their advertisement on TV, but launched a smart video that spread organically.

“The Asia Society might not seem like a company that would grab onto something like YouTube, but they have fantastic content and interact with their followers. Under their VP of Communications Deanna Lee, the content they provide is phenomenal and adds to the organisation’s marketing collateral,” continued Kuhn.

BBC abuse?  

The BBC have however, chosen to disable the embedding feature, meaning that people cannot post the clips on their own sites. There is concern from some that the state-funded broadcaster is abusing its position. Ashley MacKenzie, CEO and founder of specialist digital distribution company questions whether the new YouTube channel is in the public’s interest.

“BBC Worldwide isn’t allowing YouTube users the chance to embed their files, or syndicate, elsewhere because they want to control where, and how, their content is used. Like any aggressively commercial organisation they wish to maximise potential revenues and, for quality content, this comes by controlling distribution. Where online clips are simply used to promote a programme, as in the case for clips in the BBC YouTube channel, then users can happily embed the videos wheresoever they like,” he commented.

“Top Gear has produced the most popular videos in BBC Worldwide’s YouTube channel and both Jeremy Clarkson and BBC Worldwide know this well. Jeremy is so valuable that BBC Worldwide announced on the 8th August that they have entered in to a Joint Venture with him. The results of which, it seems, requires them to move Top Gear clips into his own channel for the sole benefit of the Joint Venture thus more money comes back to Jeremy and his partner Andy Wilman.

“On the face of it this is not unreasonable and makes perfect commercial sense but it is absolutely not something the BBC should be doing nor its commercial arm. It is a growing disgrace that the BBC and its wholly-owned representatives act so commercially where there is absolutely no market failure, no "public value" and there are hundreds of commercial organisations that would – and have! – begged to do this type of deal with Jeremy Clarkson. BBC Worldwide’s recent staff hirings and announcements demonstrate it is clearly trying to establish itself as the dominant digital content company in the UK but using tax-payers money and content handed to it at no cost,” continued MacKenzie.

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