Europe sets its sites on Web video

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Whenever anyone shells out $1.65 billion for a startup, it's bound to heighten pulse rates in the sector. Google's buyout of YouTube has been electric shock therapy for European user-generated video Web sites. According to Web traffic-measurement site Alexa.com, rival sites across the continent saw massive spikes in traffic after the Google-YouTube announcement Oct. 9, and levels have continued to climb as media buzz around the sector intensifies.

Since October, traffic on Germany's MyVideo.de -- 30% owned by leading commercial broadcaster ProSiebenSat. 1 -- has almost doubled, and the site claims more than 500 million page impressions during November. RTL's upstart German site Clipfish reported a 50% increase right after the Google deal and has been climbing steadily since.

France's Dailymotion.com has similarly seen page-views double since October and now is the 13th-most-popular site in France, just two spots behind YouTube.

The fervor surrounding video sites seems to have taken hold most strongly in Germany, where ProSieben has been heavily cross-promoting MyVideo since buying into the platform in September.

The back-and-forth between ProSieben's various channels and the video site goes beyond simply broadcasting people's funny home videos, extending to auditioning for new TV hosts and finding an outlet for hours of unbroadcast content. The hit talent search show "Popstars" and the dance competition program "You Can Dance" post all of their casting and backstage material on MyVideo, plus extended versions of on-air performances. Would-be stand-up stars can upload routines to MyVideo, where users vote on the funniest, with the winners presented on the TV show "Sat.1 Comedy." And on Friday, Sat.1 will launch a branded "MyVideo" show, featuring material exclusively culled from the German Internet site.

"MyVideo is the largest local-language video site by far and offers amazing cross-promotion opportunities and ways of extending our on-air programs and brands," said Marcus Prosch, spokesman for ProSiebenSat.1's new-media operations. "Compared to YouTube, we have the advantage of being able to link up online and on-air content. That gives us a one-of-a-kind promotion and distribution network that YouTube, at least at the moment, can't match in the territory."

Development in France has taken a different tack. Dailymotion, which launched in March 2005 -- ahead of YouTube -- is so far independent of mainstream media groups. The site claims 24 million page-views per day worldwide, with 1.2 million individual users daily. Co-founder Benjamin Bejbaum said the Google-YouTube deal hasn't changed anything for his company internally. "But it changed the way people look at us and gives us credibility," he said.

Surprisingly, Dailymotion takes a laissez-faire attitude toward promoting its brand. "We've spent zero on marketing. Our aim has to be to make the best possible platform. We make the tools so people can do their own marketing of their videos. The users do the promotion."

After launching in French and English versions, Dailymotion is now available in six European languages.

The success of these European sites might prove a challenge if YouTube decides to widen into local-language versions, as its parent company has done. "Internet video is not like Google, where it is all about the algorithms," said Christian Vollmann, head of Magic Internet, the group that operates MyVideo. "Internet video is like TV -- it is all about the content. That's where we have the advantage."

Vollmann said that YouTube's domination by clips from the U.S. means it has less relevance and therefore less appeal for German audiences. "Germans who use YouTube are much more passive. They watch but they don't post videos, they don't participate in the community. It is a completely different kind of engagement when it comes to MyVideo."

There is a strong appetite for user-generated content and social-network sites in France, which is home to one-third of European bloggers, according to a study by Google Europe. "The French like to express themselves, and this gives them a way to do it -- it responds to a need," says Francois Pellissier, deputy manager of TF1-owned personal content site WAT.

TF1 launched WAT.fr in June. With back office provided by Dailymotion, WAT (which stands for "We Are Talented") hosts video clips, music and photographs uploaded by users. The company claims "several tens of thousands" visits a day.

In contrast to ProSieben's efforts, TF1 is not allowed under its broadcasting license to use its main network to promote the site on-air. However, WAT does provide content for a TV show, "Watcast," which goes out at 2 a.m., when it attracts an audience of about 400,000 -- respectable for that time slot. "It's a means for the network to source programs, a sort of content laboratory," Pellissier said. He said TF1 has a different approach to the market than YouTube. "We're not a direct competitor," he said. "The possibility for users to see their material broadcast on television is a significant incentive, and that's inevitably a local thing."

Elsewhere across the continent, development is slower but inevitably present. Dalealplay.com launched in Spain in mid-October as an offshoot of media conglomerate Vocento. The site -- the first local-language video platform in Spain -- was the brainchild of two of the founders of Ozu, a pioneer Spanish portal that has had a strategic alliance with Google since 2001. Now in its second month, Dalealplay has 343,000 users per month, according to Nielsen SiteCensus. The creators say the fact that search tools are in Spanish facilitates the site for locals, giving it clear niche appeal.

"The content that dominates is better adapted to the Spanish philosophy and idiosyncrasies than any other international portal," co-founder Marcos Enriquez said.

Scott Roxborough reported from Cologne, Germany; Charles Masters reported from Paris. Pamela Rolfe in Madrid contributed to this report.
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