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The love/hate relationship continues as PRS renews its deal with YouTube

By | Published on Friday 15 January 2016


In case you’re wondering, yeah, YouTube’s still evil. That hasn’t changed.

It still practices the dark arts, freezes your laptop when you’re in a rush, mysteriously ramps up the volume when you accidentally open a NSFW video in a busy workplace, hides your keys, jams the roads, floods Leeds, finishes the milk before you’ve had your morning coffee, talks during gigs, cuts you off in busy traffic, gives you socks for Christmas, ensures your local Pret is always sold out of your favourite soup and never has its ticket ready at the barrier. And let’s face it, David Bowie never died when there was no YouTube.

YouTube? PooTube I say. What about the “value gap”? Please, why won’t you people remember the “value gap”? Look, it’s right there. See that gap. Big innit? A big gaping chasm of emptiness, big enough to take all the water YouTube unleashed on Leeds and a very big boat too. One of those big cruise ships. That’s how big that gap is. And that’s the “value gap”. See, that’s the problem people. Say after me: “Safe harbours, safe harbours, safe harbours, safe harbours”. You know where’s got a nice harbour? Whitby.

Anyway, the one thing we all know as we enter this brave new world that the kids are calling 2016 is that the music industry hates YouTube. HATES IT. It’s like PRS boss Robert Ashcroft said just the other day, “on behalf of our members, we are pleased both to extend and expand our licensing relationship with YouTube”.

Oh. Hang on. What’s that? What about the “value gap” Bob? “PRS for Music was the first copyright society to sign a licensing agreement with YouTube back in 2007 and both parties have since worked closely together to improve the value that creators derive from the platform”. Oh.

So, yes, PRS has extended its licensing deal with the YouTubes. Because we don’t like these free-to-access opt-out streaming services, see, but YouTube’s billion monthly users and big fat pile of ad revenues, yeah, we like those.

In case you thought PRS had forgotten the “value gap” – caused, many labels and publishers reckon, by opt-out services like YouTube exploiting ‘safe harbours’ in copyright law to strengthen their negotiating hands when it comes to licensing deals – don’t worry, the collecting society has thought of that.

“This deal drives improved value across the PRS and MCPS membership”, it says. And given that I’m yet to meet anyone in the entire publishing sector or songwriter community who understood how the last PRS/YouTube deal worked, I guess we’ll just have to take the collecting society’s word for that.

“[The deal] ensures members can continue to reach new and existing fans on YouTube”, continued PRS. “While YouTube’s users will continue to enjoy their favourite video content, when and how they want it”. Ashcroft himself went on: “[This latest agreement ] ensures continued growth in royalties for our members from one of the world’s leading video platforms. PRS For Music fully recognises the breadth of opportunity on the horizon with YouTube and other open platforms and is committed to achieving fair remuneration for rightsholders and a level licensing playing field”.

The deal covers all PRS repertoire not subject to direct dealing by the big five publishers – and the accompanying mechanical rights controlled by MCPS and IMPEL – in 130 territories in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with a framework in place to extend it further into other markets. In the UK and Ireland much repertoire repped by PRS through reciprocal agreements with other societies elsewhere in the world is also part of the deal.

The new arrangement also covers YouTube Red, the video platform’s new subscription service, which launched in the US last year and should arrive over here sometime in 2016. YouTube Red removes the ads from all videos – and gives users access to some priority original content – for $10 a month, with royalties for content owners working more like Spotify than the conventional YouTube model, though shared with all content owners of course, not just music.

It still remains to be seen how many paying users YouTube can sign up. Though, if successful, Red could overcome some of the hate that the video site has received from the music community in the last couple of years.

Labels and publishers don’t like the fact that YouTube is responsible for such high consumption of music, but pays relatively low royalties compared to Spotify-type services. The problem is that YouTube is such an important marketing platform these days, and the aforementioned safe harbours mean that if a label or publisher pulls from the service, the rights owner has to take on responsibility for ensuring user-uploaded content using their recordings or songs is removed.

Trade bodies for the labels and publishers – and collecting societies like PRS – want safe harbour rules to be rewritten, to put more of that responsibility onto YouTube. The Google-owned company will fight that proposal full-on, of course.

In the meantime – away from the lobbying brigade – artists and labels, and other music stakeholders, still have much to gain by better using YouTube as a fan engagement platform, an upsell platform and an ad platform, while if Red was to work, that arguably attracts a mass market consumer who realistically is never going to pay ten pounds a month for a standalone music service. So, YouTube is possibly the most important digital partner for music long-term, despite it not being so lucrative today as the standalone digital music set-ups.

But it’s still evil, OK? I was in a rush at that tube station. And I really wanted that soup. And I don’t need socks. And driving that day was stressful enough already. And it totally ruined that gig for me. And I really needed that cup of coffee. And my sister lives in Leeds. And my Uber bill is going to be huge. And where oh where oh where are my fucking keys. Value gap, value gap, value gap. Safe harbours, safe harbours, safe harbours.