via NY Times
YouTube and the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent agency, are close to signing a deal that would place the company’s clients in made-for-the-Web productions.
The deal would underscore the ways that distribution models are evolving on the Internet. Already, some actors and other celebrities are creating their own content for the Web, bypassing the often arduous process of developing a program for a television network. The YouTube deal would give William Morris clients an ownership stake in the videos they create for the Web site.
Two people close to the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized by their companies to speak publicly about the deal, described the arrangement as YouTube’s most sweeping attempt to date to add professionally produced videos to its Web site, which mostly features amateur videos uploaded by users. The people cautioned that the deal had not been completed. Representatives for YouTube and William Morris declined to comment Wednesday evening.
The addition of more videos by A-list actors, musicians and other stars would bolster YouTube’s identity as a next-generation entertainment source and, more important for the site’s parent company, Google, could help answer a riddle it is trying to solve: how to wring cash from the hundreds of millions of videos it hosts free.
YouTube’s audience is enormous; the measurement firm comScore reported that 100 million viewers in the United States visited the site in October. But, in part because of copyright concerns, the site does not place ads on or next to user-uploaded videos. As a result, it makes money from only a fraction of the videos on the site — the ones that are posted by its partners, including media companies like CBS and Universal Music.
The company has shown interest in becoming a home for premium video in recent months by upgrading its video player and adding full-length episodes of television shows. But some major television networks and other media companies are still hesitant about showing their content on the site. The Warner Music Group’s videos were removed from the site last month in a dispute over pay for its content.
Fred Davis, a senior partner at Davis, Shapiro, Lewit & Hayes, an entertainment law firm that advises digital media companies including YouTube, said professionally produced content was especially important to companies like YouTube because it could attract users in ways that amateur productions could not.
By becoming a partner with a talent agency, YouTube is demonstrating that it wants to be a major destination for Hollywood content. Its sponsorship of a live concert in November, YouTube Live, sent the same message.
A deal with William Morris would be a significant step in that direction. The agency represents a number of prominent clients like the actors Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe and the producers J. J. Abrams and Michael Bay. Last week, the company signed former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a client for potential book deals, speaking appearances and other projects.
Mr. Davis said agencies like William Morris were “quite active” in cultivating creators for original projects for the Web.
“Some of this talent are existing traditional media talent who are looking to expand into Web properties. Some talent will be using the Web as their first frontier,” he said. “Although everyone realizes that the monetization of this content is not quite there yet, everyone also realizes the huge potential as the digital media business matures.”