Are we witnessing YouTube's big fumble? (UPDATE: Not tonight!)

UPDATE, my original post is below. I tuned in for the Charlie Sheen show, but only about 200,000 people were in the channel at peak and the show was very boring and viewers quickly went away. So, this won’t be the “event” that proves this post’s thesis right.

UPDATE2: Ustream now claims that more than 666,000 views were generated during the course of the hour last night. Wild.


Fumble! Photo by Leann Arthur

Tonight Charlie Sheen will be on in what could be a massive night for that video network. How massive? Sheen broke all records on Twitter, gaining 1.78 million followers in less than a week. No one else, not even Oprah or Obama or Beiber, has gotten so many so fast.

I talked with one of the guys involved, Barry Schuler, who told me his partner, Brad Wyman, is the one who convinced Sheen to tweet and convinced him to break all the rules, get rid of the press and PR, and go directly to his fans. Sheen’s show is part of “WyTV” on Ustream.

But that’s all fun and games compared to what YouTube is facing tonight.

See, YouTube looked like it was going to score the final touchdown in video. One where they were running down the field 50 yards ahead of the opponents, but 10 yards from the goal line it looks to me they are stumbling and fumbling the ultimate goal: where the entertainment comes over and starts making the real money.

See, as Apple’s Steve Jobs has shown the rest of the tech industry that we can live in a world without Microsoft (even Microsoft’s biggest partner, HP, shows off devices that don’t have any Microsoft code on them now) Charlie Sheen might be the guy who shows the entire entertainment industry that they can live in a world without YouTube.


See, we all know YouTube can stream live content. We’ve seen them do it with FarmAid, Haiti, and U2.

But they don’t let US live stream. Why? The entertainment industry lawyers hate that idea. They know that thousands of people will turn on live streams of the Oscars, of the SuperBowl, of their movies, and other things.

That is a box that they don’t want opened.

But Charlie Sheen might, tonight, open that box anyway and BLOW IT UP!

This is the day that YouTube could end up fumbling on its most important goal right before the REAL money starts coming to the Internet.


Ustream, who should be counting their lucky stars (if their service stays up, already, with hours to go there are 650 people in the chat on Sheen’s channel).
*Amazon, who is ready with live video streaming service to jump in and compete with Netflix.
*Netflix, who already demonstrates to me every day they can stream live content and make money doing so.

* All these services need to do is let US stream and they win and knock YouTube’s ball right out of their hands.

It’s too bad that the Google of new isn’t as brash and fun to watch as the Google of old. The Google of old would have turned on video streaming long ago.

By the way, Google, this is one HUGE lever you have to get us all interested in owning a Google TV box and also getting us onto Android.

See, my iOS device isn’t very good at playing Ustream’s live streams.

But if you did live YouTube streams, I bet my Android devices and my Google TV would view those, right?

Now THAT is how to make my “apps are the only thing that matters” argument go away quickly!

But, instead, it looks like you’re fumbling the ball.

Go Charlie Go!

Photo credit: Leann Arthur (thank GOD for Creative Commons licensed images!)

Author: Robert Scoble

Scoble gives you a front-row seat on the future. Especially on platforms that use the fourth user interface, spatial computing, like virtual reality or mixed reality that will come soon thanks to his own front-row seat as entrepreneur in residence at and his past experience as futurist at Rackspace. Best place to find Scoble? On his Facebook page at


  1. “But Charlie Sheen might, tonight, open that box anyway and BLOW IT UP!”

    You seem high on a drug called Charlie Sheen, Robert. The web video business is always in motion, but Charlie’s appearance won’t be a defining moment in it, that’s for sure.

    1. I wouldn’t be so sure. By the way, I am not a Sheen fan at all, but the dude blew it out on Twitter this week. YOU MUST PAY ATTENTION TO THAT if you want to be credible in this business. Yes, it’s always in motion, but this has the POTENTIAL to be a defining moment. We’ll watch and see.

      1. Scobleizer has it right on the money in this discussion. And neither am I a Sheen fan, but Sheen has already shown how credible he is in this social business in one week, with no experience. I believe, this will be a defining moment. Publicity is already through the roof, and guess what, we are all helping define this moment. It has been defined, just by publicizing the event all over the networking world.

      2. Isn’t it interesting Robert, that Charlie Sheen has bypassed traditional PR yet traditional PR will be in that audience ready to watch him stream live on UStream. His work is done. Because he’s a hot topic right of convo right now, they WILL give him air time. They won’t ignore him. Even here in Australia we get bombarded with Sheen this, Sheen that on our airwaves and we’re in a different time zone. Syndication will boost UStream’s brand presence and probable lift in its utility.

        Once YouTube decides to switch on live streaming, that’s when it’ll be time for UStream and the like to redefine the game again.


    2. A tipping point, a defining moment- that’s all it takes to flip a user base. We could well be witnessing just that shift now.

  2. This might be a weekend bitchmeme, but it is one of your most thoughtful recent posts, too. Google is fumbling the ball over and over, and I wonder if it is because, as a public company, t can’t do what it used to do– like take on the networks. Which brings up the question of what will happen to Faebook when it goes public. And leads us to the larger question of scale and social: when social services scale, do they inevitably lose their edge?

    Probably will skip Charlie Sheen, howver. Seen many guys in rehab. Never pretty.

  3. But Robert, YouTube’s most valuable asset is their comments section.

    No, I am not joking. I laugh my ass of when I see a video that has 8 dislikes and this comment:

    “8 people just overdosed on Charlie Sheen”

    Of course I mean, the community. The brand etc. YouTube didn’t fumble, because this interview will be posted on youtube a few hours after it is finished. And if Ustream allows anyone to stream it just will become another and get taken out w/ lawsuits till they are forced to shutdown.

    1. Only some, most don’t have access to the streaming infrastructure (I am a YouTube partner). Until everyone can do it they are fumbling and fumbling big time.

  4. I have to agree. I hope YouTube implements this soon; they already have a copyright problem, so I don’t think live streaming is going to make it any worse.

    But… “See, as Apple’s Steve Jobs has shown the rest of the tech industry that we can live in a world without Microsoft…” I have to disagree with that part. Even ignoring OS X vs. Windows, the 360 still destroys any other devices designed for gaming.

      1. I mean for devices made for gaming as the main focus. The 360 has a lot of other options but its main use is gaming. And for “traditional” gaming – i.e. with an actual controller – the 360 can’t be beat.

        1. How much longer will people want “devices made for gaming as the main focus”? I’m sure there are still mobile phones designed mainly for making mobile phone calls, but… I haven’t seen one in a while.

        2. How much longer will people want “devices made for gaming as the main focus”? I’m sure there are still mobile phones designed mainly for making mobile phone calls, but… I haven’t seen one in a while.

  5. One quibble with your post. Neither Amazon nor Netflix does “live video” or “live content”. They both have streaming services for pre-recorded content. It’s a slightly more complex problem to take in a video feed and then distribute that back out to thousands of viewers simultaneously.

  6. One quibble with your post. Neither Amazon nor Netflix does “live video” or “live content”. They both have streaming services for pre-recorded content. It’s a slightly more complex problem to take in a video feed and then distribute that back out to thousands of viewers simultaneously.

  7. Well other than the fact that Sheen suffers from mental illness, glorifies cocaine use and will probably die in front of our eyes…yes go Charlie Sheen.

  8. UStream may have scored the deal but they’ve got a lot to learn about promoting it. I’ve been scanning twitter all day and this is the first I’ve heard of this. Neither was it in any of the RSS feeds that I follow.

    Also, if you click on the link provided to the stream, the only mention of Charlie Sheen is a TINY picture in the live stream window which says “LIVE @ 7pm”. But down below it says “Sheen’s-Korner Premiere 9:59 PM – 10:59 PM ET” – Confusing.

    Then on USTREAM’s home page, there is only a tiny graphic box with the same image. And that scrolls over to 3 other shows so it’s not visible most of the time. That is the only indication that a HUGE new show is about to premiere. That’s A LOT of potential lost views.

    Why are they barely promoting it?

  9. Maybe YouTube could use or copy IntoNow’s fingerprinting tech to filter out TV content from a live streaming service. But YT’s content ID tech is already so impressive I have to imagine this is not the greatest barrier in launching a live streaming product.

    1. Do you code? I bet lots of people don’t get that either. Sheen is entertainment. He is the story of the moment. We enjoy watching the drama in someone else’s life so that we can feel better about the drama in OURS.

      1. Nope, I’m not a developer. But i can understand code if I look at it.

        I just don’t understand the whole celebrity news thing & why people pay so much attention to it, especially for people like charlie sheen who are doing nothing productive with their lives. Seems like a complete waste of time to me, but it takes all types for the world to go round I guess.

  10. Live video is mostly a wasted effort I thought Tivo already taught us this.

    Charlie may get a ton of streams the first time for novelty but from there the live viewer count will plummet like a rock.

  11. Ustream has to spend not-inconsiderable time and effort dealing with copyright violators on their network any time there’s a major sporting or pop culture event. Not to mention all the people who like to take their clothes off onscreen.

    Don’t underestimate how hard it is to solve that problem at scale. Hiring an army of cheap labor to manually review and delete the violating streams is the easy part. The hard part is the back-end infrastructure to track it all.

  12. What about post-stream coverage in traditional media? The viewers may not have been there tonight (it is a Saturday night, after all), but when the TMZs, ETs, Extras, etc., get a hold of this it could still end up being a huge PR win for Ustream, regardless of the audience size during the live stream. It just won’t be as big of a missed PR opportunity for YouTube as you originally thought.

    But I do agree with your update that *tonight* is not the night that UStream reaps all the benefits. It will be interesting to see how many celebrities decide to copy Charlie and give live streaming a shot.

  13. 200 000 viewers compared to almost 2 million followers proves that the importance of number of followers is exaggerated πŸ™‚ and that if twitter shows someone on your follower list it does not mean he really follows you πŸ™‚

  14. It could be testament to the power of Youtube’s brand that they don’t turn on live streaming. Ustream and Justin are still relatively “geeky” in the mind. If Youtube turned it on it may be so popular that it could bring even the great Googles’ servers down. Just a guess. On another point, speaking of the “long tail” I have personal interest in Brazil and youtube was live streaming their Carnaval in brilliant HD. Much more interesting to me than what was on TV at the time. Long tail for sure, but definitely cool. It was the first time I felt the desire to have a Google TV or some kind of internet enabled TV.

    Yeah, the Charlie Sheen thing was boring. Bill Maher recently said on his show that most actors are “dumb” and they don’t know how to say anything without a script in front of them. Now that’s Bill being Bill, but there could be some truth to it. So if that’s true, even though the means of distribution is changing, we’re still going to need good writers and producers. George Gilder wrote “The Death of TV” like 20 years ago, but what he meant was a change in the medium of distribution, and not necessarily that we wouldn’t need the talent and all aspects of production.

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