NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Videos to Be the New Coin of the Realm

A Revolutionary New Site Puts Up Any and All Videos

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

You will never approach videos the same way again after experiencing the YouTube.com Web site. It’s an amazing addition to the cyber world. I first checked it out after a friend told me that I could see and hear the Rolling Stones’ Rice Krispies commercial from the 1960s there. There it was. And I had never seen it before, although I had heard about it for years. The Stones did not want to be identified with it, which is why it had lain dormant for so long.

YouTube is full of such rich little gems. It’s a Web site where you can upload any video you want to. And people do. Boy howdy, do they ever. There is stuff there from the bizarre to the esoteric to the funny to the transcendent to the shocking. It is never boring, I must say. Some of it’s professional, but a large percentage seems to be very much the work of amateurs. Which can be very charming.

But the truly astonishing thing is the quantity and breadth of music videos and clips that make their way to YouTube. Just a few minutes ago, I ran across a clip of Brenda Lee as a child singing Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” It was jerky and grainy, granted, but there it was, preserved for history. Before that, I found some vintage Gram Parsons, some primo Emmylou Harris and a 1952 clip of Hank Williams singing “Cold, Cold Heart.”

You have to wonder how all this stuff is sliding by all the rights and clearances cops and the RIAA’s storm troopers and the music conglomerates’ phalanxes of hyperventilating lawyers. From all the evidence I can gather, YouTube draws many thousands of video submissions daily and has an audience numbering in the many millions every day. I can see why. This is media democracy at work. And that’s a dangerous thing.

You’re supposed to pay somebody for this stuff! This hurts capitalism! That’s the argument that will be hurled at YouTube when the lawsuits start. And they will, believe me. They’ll come in droves. NBC and CBS have already forced some TV clips to be withdrawn and YouTube has a policy of taking down any video they know violates a copyright — once they’re informed about a violation.

YouTube was launched in February 2005 by a couple of guys, who came from PayPal, in a garage in San Mateo, Calif., and quickly attracted some investment capital support as the first easy-to-access video site online. It’s grown very quickly. They happened upon a very simple formula: Give the people what they want — and they will come.

How is YouTube making money? I don’t know. It’s free. The online ads are minimal ads provided from Google. In a first, though, YouTube recently partnered with the Weinstein Company to air the first eight minutes of the Weinstein movie, Lucky Number Slevin, on its site as a promotion. That will likely happen more and more with movie releases.

I suspect that YouTube will come to be a real experiment and turn out to be a test case in sharing media. Is it a crime to look at a music video without paying somebody for it? We do it on cable channels every day. Companies such as Google and Yahoo are already chasing YouTube with copycat sites.

Imagine being able to pick from literally dozens of Johnny Cash clips, including duets with the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins, and Cash tributes from the goofy to the sublime. There’s George Jones and Alan Jackson and Dolly Parton, including her appearance on The Tonight Show when host Johnny Carson told her he would give a year’s salary to peek under her blouse.

The site currently features 229 Rascal Flatts entries, mostly for clips from their live concerts, 139 Keith Urban clips, 171 Shania Twains, 90 Faith Hills, 91 Kenny Chesneys, 69 Toby Keiths, 58 Willie Nelsons and 56 Tim McGraws. There are 85 clips devoted to Hank Williams, 58 to Garth Brooks and 28 to Waylon Jennings. Eight videos each are listed for Webb Pierce, Faron Young and Ray Price and zero for Lefty Frizzell. But 504 Johnny Cash items.

I think this is good for everyone. The public will decide what stays and survives and what goes away, in the way of sites. Let a thousand Web sites bloom.