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How Major Film Studios Manipulate YouTube Users 120

Posted by timothy
from the velvet-glove-cast-in-iron dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A year before the major movie companies were offered the chance by YouTube to 'block, monetize or track' uploaded copyrighted material, studios such as Disney were already commissioning PR companies to create bogus YouTube users — complete with authentically 'trendy' semi-literate user-profiles, on accounts that appeared to be set up by young and 'edgy' teenagers. These faux 'users' were able to post high-definition videos from copyrighted movies without being penalised or impeded by YouTube's Content ID algorithms, and their posts, deliberately crammed with piracy-related search terms and timed (even to the day, in one case) to coincide with related DVD and Blu-ray releases, sometimes accrue a million and a half hits or more, whilst those of genuine YouTube uploaders fall at the site's Content ID firewall. This article looks at how the major studios have reacted to YouTube in the last four years, and also examines in-depth three such examples of apparent 'astroturfing' involving the theatrical or disc releases of Toy Story 2, Speed Racer and Spider-Man 3."
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How Major Film Studios Manipulate YouTube Users

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  • Only I got to play bad, not you, 'cause if you do.............
    • Re:Only me (Score:5, Insightful)

      by temcat (873475) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @02:11PM (#35187518)

      Not that I'm a big supporter of copyright, but it's IMHO entirely logical: the studios do it (via hired astroturfers) with *their own* content. You are free to upload hi-def content as long as it's yours, so no hypocrisy here.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes its logical and legal but it should also be marked as an advertisement.

        • by temcat (873475)

          I don't think that everything that serves as an advertisement should be marked as such.

          • Re:Only me (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hedwards (940851) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @03:47PM (#35188120)

            If it's being funded or run by the product owner or retailer then it should be. It's an easy way to fraudulently pass a product marketing off as an unbiased community review.

            • by temcat (873475)

              So what? If the content in question is fiction (and it's made clear), then it can't be fraudulent as such. If it's non-fiction, then it's not fraudulent if it doesn't make false assertions regarding the product. Everything else is strictly viewer's problem.

      • Re:Only me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @02:32PM (#35187650) Journal
        The hypocrisy part only comes in when we consider the fact that the very same groups of MPAA and friends were(during the same time period) crying bitterly to anybody who would listen about how youtube was one of the four horsemen of the piratepocalypse, and(DMCA compliance to the contrary) an illegal hive of scum and villainy. I believe that there were even a number of cases where a given studio's legal arm ended up DMCA-takedowning the material that the same studio's PR arm was putting up, and then accusing youtube of a sinister role in contributory infringement...
        • Re:Only me (Score:4, Informative)

          by click2005 (921437) * on Saturday February 12, 2011 @02:49PM (#35187736)

          I believe that there were even a number of cases where a given studio's legal arm ended up DMCA-takedowning the material that the same studio's PR arm was putting up, and then accusing youtube of a sinister role in contributory infringement...

          Yes that came out recently as a result of the YouTube vs Viacom (ongoing?) court case.

          • > I am a free slashdotter. I will not be modded, blogged, DRM'd, patented, podcasted or RFID'd. My life is my own.

            But you are registered - are you not ? :-)
        • This was just a way for the labels to get Google to help make them some money before the big copyright-infringement payout. Like interest payments.

        • Re:Only me (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Steauengeglase (512315) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @04:17PM (#35188348)

          That's the way it goes. Same with record companies releasing music out on the torrents to gather interest. Come to think of it, games and print are the only entertainment mediums I can think of that don't commonly use this tactic.

          Too bad the studios and record companies don't realize that they lose something with these tactics: consumer's respect.

          When a game studio or print publisher goes belly up, we feel bad for the people working in those businesses. We think of all the hard work and often times, little pay and appreciation they get back. On the other side of the aisle, the movie and music industry can run ads 24/7 showing the sound engineers and stunt men and their families and thanks to the industry's notoriously underhanded ethics, you can only think, "Man, what a manipulative group of assholes."

        • This reminds me of school and boomerangs.

          Back in the early 80s I learnt how to make boomerangs, took them to school and during lunch breaks I threw them on the large playing field away from everyone, then some of the kids in my class purposely came closer to watch and then went and complained to a teacher I was throwing them too close to others, so I moved further away and guess what those little bastards did, yup, they purposely moved closer just so they could complain again to the teacher.

          I somehow do
      • Re:Only me (Score:5, Insightful)

        by metacell (523607) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @02:47PM (#35187724)

        It's hypocritical for at least two reasons:

        1. The movie companies claim to lose money on piracy, despite their revenues continuing to increase steadily throughout most of the 2000's, and despite research showing that pirating often stimulates sales. And now it turns out they were using the marketing effect of piracy themselves - that it was "pretend" piracy doesn't make a difference to its marketing effect.
        2. By pretending to pirate movies, they set a bad example and encouraged the behaviour they claim to be against, and even brand as immoral in their anti-piracy propaganda.

        • by temcat (873475)

          I stand corrected regarding your point 2.
          As to the point 1 - which is somewhat entangled with 2, but we can eliminate it by considering free content uploading as such, not piracy or pretended piracy: the argument that piracy causes losses while limited and calculated free distribution of content under the owner's control boosts sales doesn't seem hypocritical to me.

        • Re:Only me (Score:5, Interesting)

          by IICV (652597) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @04:16PM (#35188332)

          ... The movie companies claim to lose money on piracy, despite their revenues continuing to increase steadily throughout most of the 2000's, and despite research showing that pirating often stimulates sales....

          Actually, I would argue that those studies are exactly why the film industry hates piracy.

          Look at it like this: they're a business. Businesses want a steady revenue stream. Ideally, entertainment becomes a machine - 1x money goes in one end, and 1.5x money comes out the other end, no matter what. If sometimes, unpredictably, when you put 1x money in 1.1x money comes out, that's bad - but so is putting 1x money in and getting 2x money out. Unpredictability in general is bad, even if it ends up working out in your favor.

          How do businesses combat unpredictability? With marketing. By molding how people perceive your product, you tune the machine; yes, you make its output higher, but you also make the output range narrower - you remove the unpredictability from the market. I bet that one of marketing's greatest victories in the modern era has been to convince people that its goal is simply to improve sales at any cost, not to stabilize them.

          This is clearly very important to almost every business, but especially entertainment. I mean, just look at the budget for any major game or movie - there's quite frequently an even split in resources allocated to making the thing and advertising the thing - which, to a business, means that they think advertising is at least as important as the actual product.

          So where does piracy come in? It's the equivalent of millions of dollars spent on marketing, that the business has absolutely no control over. That makes type-A CEOs flip out - not because they're losing sales, but because, in essence, they've lost control of something. And they have good reason to, a lot of the time - instead of consumers being hit with a carefully crafted marketing message that frames the product in exactly the right way, they're just exposed directly to the product itself. Remember that budget allocation? Piracy literally makes half of what the company spent on bringing the product to market useless.

          So yeah. Those studies that say piracy might actually increase sales? Businesses don't give a shit. What they care about is the unauthorized marketing, which adds unpredictability to their income and makes a large part of the resources they spend meaningless.

          • by Reziac (43301) *

            Per your analysis, it sounds to me more like: Marketing departments, desiring to keep their well-paid jobs, are desperately trying to ensure that higher-ups don't notice that corporate marketing has been rendered obsolete by viral marketing (including "piracy").

          • by WhiteDragon (4556)

            ... The movie companies claim to lose money on piracy, despite their revenues continuing to increase steadily throughout most of the 2000's, and despite research showing that pirating often stimulates sales....

            Actually, I would argue that those studies are exactly why the film industry hates piracy.

            Look at it like this: they're a business. Businesses want a steady revenue stream. Ideally, entertainment becomes a machine - 1x money goes in one end, and 1.5x money comes out the other end, no matter what. If sometimes, unpredictably, when you put 1x money in 1.1x money comes out, that's bad - but so is putting 1x money in and getting 2x money out. Unpredictability in general is bad, even if it ends up working out in your favor.

            How do businesses combat unpredictability? With marketing. By molding how people perceive your product, you tune the machine; yes, you make its output higher, but you also make the output range narrower - you remove the unpredictability from the market. I bet that one of marketing's greatest victories in the modern era has been to convince people that its goal is simply to improve sales at any cost, not to stabilize them.

            This is clearly very important to almost every business, but especially entertainment. I mean, just look at the budget for any major game or movie - there's quite frequently an even split in resources allocated to making the thing and advertising the thing - which, to a business, means that they think advertising is at least as important as the actual product.

            So where does piracy come in? It's the equivalent of millions of dollars spent on marketing, that the business has absolutely no control over. That makes type-A CEOs flip out - not because they're losing sales, but because, in essence, they've lost control of something. And they have good reason to, a lot of the time - instead of consumers being hit with a carefully crafted marketing message that frames the product in exactly the right way, they're just exposed directly to the product itself. Remember that budget allocation? Piracy literally makes half of what the company spent on bringing the product to market useless.

            So yeah. Those studies that say piracy might actually increase sales? Businesses don't give a shit. What they care about is the unauthorized marketing, which adds unpredictability to their income and makes a large part of the resources they spend meaningless.

            That actually really makes sense. I had always thought of marketing as just advertising, but you're absolutely right. It's more about control.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 12, 2011 @01:49PM (#35187370)

    Go to court?
    Hire goons?
    Shut down Youtube with DOS attacks?

    They have a multi-billion dollar investment in their industry. You can hate their movies if you like. You can despise the prices of popcorn. You can't deny they have an interest in being sure that their investment pays off.

    As far as actions go, it's less annoying than rick-rolling.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Rick-rolling is a unique "feature" of our culture, a practical joke or graffiti, essentially. Monied manipulation of the population writ large is not the same.

      Rick-rollers don't seek to manipulate my wallet/vote/behavior (aside from perhaps a little keyboard rage, though personally I find it amusing more often than not). No, these big players actions aren't annoying...but they sure as hell are insidious - it would be better for us if they were annoying, so we could be alarmed to their actions.

      • Rick-rolling is a unique "feature" of our culture, a practical joke or graffiti, essentially. Monied manipulation of the population writ large is not the same.

        Rick-rollers don't seek to manipulate my wallet/vote/behavior (aside from perhaps a little keyboard rage, though personally I find it amusing more often than not).

        I still find it amusing myself (personally very late to the RR meme myself), but I'm still finding new ways to inflict Astley on people. And as an aside, it looks like even Konami jumped onto the Rickroll bandwagon with Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party 3 [youtube.com].

        Then again, does it count as a Rickroll if you already know the song is one of the selections in the game?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Go to court?
      Hire goons?
      Shut down Youtube with DOS attacks?

      They have a multi-billion dollar investment in their industry. You can hate their movies if you like. You can despise the prices of popcorn. You can't deny they have an interest in being sure that their investment pays off.

      As far as actions go, it's less annoying than rick-rolling.

      It's less antagonistic than some of their methods but it is still an indicator of their core dishonesty. They are saying "doing this hurts us", trying to prevent us from doing it, then doing it themselves because it actually helps their business. What's good for the goose should be good for the average youtube user.

      • by temcat (873475)

        The difference is that the bogus users do it with a proper authorization from the studios, therefore no copyright infrigement occurs. And copyright infringement is the issue here, not uploading as such.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Copyright infringement is not the issue here, dishonest, contradictory business practice is. It is a hugely conflicting message when studios pretend to be average users to upload their own videos then chase after, interfere with and block real users doing the same thing, when they have already acknowledge by their actions that people uploading to youtube makes them more money. It's not a matter of who owns the copyright, because obviously that is the studio, it is that the studio's actions belie the idea

    • you can shut down youtube with a DOS attack? silly me, here i was thinking you needed a distributed denial of service

      how do you do it with a DOS attack?

      format a: /q:youtube ?

      deltree c:\windows\youtube ?

      ipconfig /flushdns /youtube?

    • by bit01 (644603)

      You can't deny they have an interest in being sure that their investment pays off.

      "Having an interest", financial or otherwise, is not a justification for unethical behavior. Ever.

      ---

      Astroturfing "marketers" [wikipedia.org] are liars, fraudulently misrepresenting company propaganda as objective third party opinion. Anonymous commercial speech should be illegal.

  • by Haedrian (1676506) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @01:55PM (#35187396)

    That if you advertise or support a company, and are paid for by the company - you had to declare it?

    This is an honest question...

    • If there is such a law, it'd completely destroy the Viral Marketing industry. There are such laws in political advertising. But I know of several older ad campaigns that didn't declare what they were for (for viral purposes) until weeks after they launched (creating "internet buzz" in advance).
      Plus they kinda are showing us who they are advertising for...whether or not they are being paid shouldn't be an issue since the intent of the advertiser can't be fully taken into consideration. Even if they are
      • If there is such a law, it'd completely destroy the Viral Marketing industry

        Wow, what a fucking tragedy that would be

      • by bit01 (644603)

        Plus they kinda are showing us who they are advertising for...whether or not they are being paid shouldn't be an issue

        Would consumers behavior change if they knew it was paid for? Yes? Well then it damn well is an issue. Whatever the viral marketing parasites would like to believe. Bunch of lowlifes stealing millions (billions?) of hours of peoples' time and attention for nothing in return.

        Even if they are being compensated, we don't know whether or not they themselves are such fans of the company they w

    • by foobsr (693224)
      That if you advertise or support a company, and are paid for by the company - you had to declare it?

      Probably depends on your jurisdiction. In Germany, yes (Telemediengesetz 6, IANAL).

      CC.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Saturday February 12, 2011 @02:15PM (#35187536) Homepage
      The FTC has said that if you write a review of a product, you have to disclose [wired.com] if you received the product for free. I don't know if that regulation is applicable in this context.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        But even then there are loopholes. For example, many gaming magazines get a budget of x amount of advertising dollars above and beyond the actual advertisements they have. Those extra dollars are used to purchase copies of games for review. In that sense they didn't get it for free even though they really did.

    • That if you advertise or support a company, and are paid for by the company - you had to declare it?

      This is an honest question...

      Which Youtube posts are paid advertisements.
      Thanks, I'm here all day.

  • Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Saturday February 12, 2011 @01:59PM (#35187432) Homepage

    If you post good videos, they're still good regardless of who you are, your agenda, or if everything in your profile is made up. I don't see how they're manipulating anyone.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      I very much agree. The movie studios should have been posting trailer and excerpts from movies on youtube since the beginning. We shouldn't need to watch the trailers that were taken via cell phone camera at the local cinema posted by Joe the Pirate in glorious 120p. It's sad that they've only recently started to come around in this. Think about how much they pay to get a TV commercial with the trailer to show during prime time. And they could get the same number of people to watch the ad for free Youtub
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you really can't see how they are manipulating anyone, perhaps you should get your conscience checked.

    • Re:Who cares? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @03:28PM (#35187970)

      If you post good videos, they're still good regardless of who you are, your agenda, or if everything in your profile is made up. I don't see how they're manipulating anyone.

      Well, if they don't accurately and honestly identify themselves then how are others who upload supposed to know that the videos by the movie companies are not violating any copyrights? If it's OK for some random people (aka the movie studios hiding behind fake personas) who's to say other videos of the same movie aren't allowed?

      BTW, if it isn't clear that they have something to hide by doing it this way then ask yourself: Why are they hiding behind many fake YouTube accounts in order to post their content? If they weren't trying to pull a fast one then why not just post it as themselves/their company?

      • by Solandri (704621)

        Well, if they don't accurately and honestly identify themselves then how are others who upload supposed to know that the videos by the movie companies are not violating any copyrights? If it's OK for some random people (aka the movie studios hiding behind fake personas) who's to say other videos of the same movie aren't allowed?

        So since you believe it's wrong for companies to hide behind anonymous personas on the grounds that it's dishonest and inaccurate, I take it you also believe it's wrong for regular

        • It depends on what they are doing. People have the right to privacy and anonymity in most circumstances. But, I don't want to do business with someone who is pretending to be someone else, and I don't to read news/blogs/fill-in-the-blank by someone who is pretending to be someone they are not (which is different from a blogger, etc using a pseudonym) or is being paid/sponsored by an undisclosed company.

          If they aren't being upfront about what they're doing then there's a reason to suspect they're hiding s
        • by 517714 (762276)
          Anonymous and false are entirely different. Creating a false persona is never done for the benefit of those who are deceived - just ask any pedophile who thought he was e-chatting with a 13 year old girl that was really the FBI. The Nigerian internet scams rely on this same deception. Neither deception could be perpetrated by anonymous. There is no persona behind anonymous, those interacting with anonymous know that the individual they are dealing with is not forthcoming and may not be reliable.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          You kind of missed the point. Ok, let's put forth this scenario:

          Let's say the movie companies put a copy of a movie up on youtube. It's popular, lots of people watch it, and so forth. It's legitimately their material so they're allowed to post it and it isn't taken down by youtube because of this, but it's presented as some 12 year old kid's post.

          Now *your* 12 year old kid watches the video, sees that it's been up for a year with no problem and has millions of views. He thinks to himself "gee, although

        • by MaDeR (826021)
          Companies != peoples. They have different rights. Very, very different.
    • Whatever you say, guy who works for Columbia's PR firm writing bullshit on internet message boards for minimum wage.
    • by bit01 (644603)

      If you post good videos, they're still good regardless of who you are, your agenda, or if everything in your profile is made up. I don't see how they're manipulating anyone.

      WTF? They are doing the whole thing to manipulate, in this case deliberately diverting people from possibly better alternatives. And because it's advertising drivel it's sure to be content free and emotionally manipulative.

      ---

      Marketing in a saturated market is a zero-sum game. When one player wins another must lose. In a saturated mar

    • by hey! (33014)

      I agree that a big part of the attraction of the Youtube astroturf we're talking about is that it has content real users don't have access to, but I see two objections to what the studios are doing here.

      The first is that what they are ultimately up to is fabricating outright falsehoods in order to obtain money from consumers. I realize that finding this ethically objectionable puts one pretty far out of the mainstream when it comes to what passes for business ethics today. We've decided as a culture to look

    • by idlehanz (1262698)

      If you post good videos, they're still good regardless of who you are, your agenda, or if everything in your profile is made up. I don't see how they're manipulating anyone.

      Dang it! You've tricked me into watching good content! Damn you!

  • by juan2074 (312848) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @02:04PM (#35187472)
    Why would anyone look on YouTube for high-quality videos?

    They are looking in the wrong place.
  • by thomp (56629)

    How breakfast cereal companies manipulate breakfast cereal eaters with hip characters in commercials during kids' TV shows.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Cosmic colossal astroturfing. 'This is an unpaid ad'. Of course the major studios are gaming the system. If it was on a 'YouTube' channel dedicated to them, then people would know clearly that posts are contrived. Since they have legal sticks that they like to beat YouTube with "Draconian Monetary Crimminals Association (DMCA)" blah blah, they can game the system to suit themselves. A double whammy is if they 1) get their own people to post illegal content that they want uploaded onto YouTube 2) Gene

  • and far more effective to identify their actual fans on Youtube and offer incentives to keep posting excerpts. There is a legitimate way to do viral marketing.
  • Apparently it exists in two states at once. On the one hand, pirates are unlikely to ever buy their products when they have access to pirated content On the other, pirates are likely to buy their products if presented with "fake" pirated content to whet their appetites. But no no, its not "advertising"...
  • That was a very long FA to say that studios may be using their own copyrighted materials to promote their own copyrighted materials via a "free" ad medium.

    It was boring too.

    True point(-s) though.

    Somebody ought to do something.
  • Now I feel like YouTube is evil. I hate advertising masquerading as normal content. It seems like YouTube is party to this; maybe this was their Faustian pact, put up with this crap or we'll sue you for every violation we ever find. People who *try* to make a "viral" video are the epitome of uncool. Especially the fake ones; cellphones cooking popcorn, etc etc. I thought marketing departments were supposed to "get" people. Overpaid idiots.
  • How is a studio uploading a video any less 'genuine' than anyone else?

    • by 517714 (762276)
      The studios are likely to make you think that movies like "Gigli" are good, anyone else is unlikely to have access to the clips that show how bad it is until it is out on DVD.
  • From the perspective of users, what's the problem? Video they're searching for is either there or it's not - who cares who uploaded it or why?

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