No welcome mat for GoogTube in China?

Chinese censors won't like self-produced video. What about Chinese cellphones?

Published October 10, 2006 4:39PM (EDT)

David Wolf at Silicon Hutong has a potent take on the Google-YouTube purchase, from a Chinese point of view.

His first observation is, well, obvious: YouTube as it works now will not fly in China.

"A Web site that plays videos but is not a licensed broadcaster? That's a no-go ... A foreign Web site? Playing foreign videos? Or worse, self-produced videos from local Chinese? Even worse, owned by a foreign company with huge resources?... No, YouTube in its current form would set off way too many alarm bells around the capital for Google to even consider launching it in China."

The more interesting corollary of the threat posed to Chinese censors by a wanton-video-posting site like YouTube is that suddenly Google is no longer just a search engine: It is now a major content provider, and as such, "As of today, Google will no longer be seen by Chinese merely as a Web search and advertising company that offers fun online toys like Google Earth. If it wasn't before, Google is now seriously in the media business as far as the Chinese are concerned, and its approach to marketing, government relations, and the way it approaches its business decisions must change accordingly."

But maybe most interesting, at least to those of us who aren't as up-to-date on developments in Asian cellphone markets as we should be, are the possibilities for Google/YouTube in the burgeoning "mobile TV" sector.

South Korea, as usual, is well ahead of most of the world in rolling out mobile-television broadcast networks aimed at pumping TV shows onto next-generation cellphones. But China is not far behind.

"Mobile TV is coming to China -- a standard has been selected, trials are underway, handset manufacturers are designing phones, and operators are trying to get their heads around how mobile television will make them wealthy. Meanwhile, the government is trying to figure out how to regulate mobile TV, who should regulate it, and what kind of content is permissible ... As with television elsewhere in China, though, the real challenge is going to be getting enough content into a service to make mobile TV appealing to consumers. Mobile content has its own particular requirements -- small screens, short programming, and loads of choice. From that perspective, YouTube is brilliantly suited to mobile television: short duration videos, lots of low-definition stuff that people are used to seeing in small screens, and content that is mostly already formatted for wmv and RealPlayer."

Even better, as far as Chinese authorities are concerned (or worse, as far as human rights and democracy are concerned), is that anything that plays on a TV-equipped cellphone will have to go through a couple of filters between YouTube and you: both a broadcaster and a telecom carrier. Which means a Shanghai dweller's chances of seeing digital camera-generated video of a riot in Xinjiang will be slim.

The application of the YouTube model to Asian cellphone markets is interesting -- but why stop there? Eventually, TV-equipped cellphones will make their way to the U.S. The enormous popularity of YouTube offers abundant proof that people want to watch short videos with bad resolution on tiny screens. Invader Zim goes to India on your Nokia via GoogTube, coming right up.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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