How do you solve a problem like Blunty?

BluntySo if you were the proposed News Standards Body, how would you regulate Blunty?

The News Standards Body, in case you didn’t notice, is the new organisation proposed by the Convergence Review this week to regulate news and commentary, regardless of platform.

Blunty, in case you didn’t notice, is the video blogger who this week went viral after he filmed a guerrilla marketing demo outside Apple’s Sydney store apparently as a coincidental bystander, but later admitted he’d been put up to it by BlackBerry.   

The proposed new regime has three criteria for the sort of content that would be regulated: The content service enterprise (or media owner as we used to call such things) has to have control over the content; there have to be a large number of users of the content; and thirdly they receive a large amount of revenue from supplying that content to Australians. In addition, it has to be professional content.

That’s why Blunty is a good example – he’s an official YouTube partner. That gives YouTube control over his content. Those who sign up to the partnership – for which they share advertising revenue with YouTube  – have to abide by a strict set of terms and conditions set by YouTube. Second, yes, there are a large number of users – in Blunty’s case that one controversial video alone has had half a million views (albeit not all Australian) in less than a week.

And yes, Blunty is a professional. This content is how he makes his living. He even talks in his (it seems to me grudging) confessional follow up video about being a camera pro.

To complicate matters, the Convergence Review’s initial pronouncement is that YouTube’s parent company Google does not make sufficient revenue against professional content to be classified as a content service enterprise and covered by the new rules.

Which seems highly unlikely.

Blunty has had 181m video views to his channel to date. As another Aussie example, that’s dwarfed by the excellent Natalie Tran’s Community Channel 425m. There’ll be a lot of Aussie eyeballs within that – and a lot of preroll, overlay and display ads delivered against them.

Hell, even Mumbrella’s Mumbo Report channel – where we put the professional content we shoot ourselves – has had a third of a million views. (As a partner, I think the Ts&Cs probably prevent me from revealing our revenue share from this.)

By these definitions, it’s interesting to see what Google had to say on the matter in a blog post back in February:

“Australian content is certainly booming on YouTube. A new class of Aussie artists and entrepreneurs is making high-quality videos that are racking up tens of millions of views across Australia and the world, and many of them are earning enough to quit their day jobs.”

And that’s before we get into the many branded channels – chock full of professional content (who makes the stuff? Often ad agencies) and with YouTube pulling in dollars against it.

Obviously there are plenty of grey areas around the definition of professional content, and the definition of what YouTube has genuine control over (I’d argue partner channels is a good place to start).

But no matter how you calculate it, I’d argue that YouTube will easily generate more than $50m against this professional content.

Which is awkward, because it was very convenient for the Convergence Review to be able to claim that while it wanted to regulate all platforms, YouTube/ Google happened to not qualify.

Under the Convergence Review criteria, I reckon it does.

(Not that I think that YouTube can be regulated like other media. In principle maybe it should be; in practice it’s impossible.)

So let’s follow the logic a a little further.

Let’s go back to Blunty.

Clearly, he’s offering commentary.

But in this case, we’re into very murky territory if the News Standards Body were to attempt to regulate a complaint about his video if you attempted to hold him to the same standardas as journalists.

He may argue now that he didn’t actually tell his subscribers that he was at the Apple Store by coincidence. But he certainly implied it so heavily that any reasonable person would draw that conclusion.

If I was a regular subscriber, I would feel misled.

And there would certainly be journalistic ethics at stake if a newspaper columnist was to tell his or her readers they thought a stunt might be a guerrilla campaign for Apple’s Siri service when they knew with totally certainty that they were misdirecting them. Or that they were thrown out of the store when they weren’t.

But there again, this interesting point is made by the Convergence Review:

“In particular, it seems reasonable that only those organisations that have committed to an industry self-regulatory scheme for upholding journalistic standards of fairness and accuracy should be entitled to the exemptions from the provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 concerning misleading and deceptive statements.”

Which does put the likes of Blunty in an interesting position. Would you rather be in breach of journalistic ethics with the News Standards Body? Or get a legal letter from Apple accusing you of making misleading and deceptive statements?

Tim Burrowes


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