YouTube now has modules set up to deliver videos related to your specified location.
With its ability to collect articles and sell advertisements against them, Google has already become a huge force in the news business — and the scourge of many newspapers. Now its subsidiary YouTube wants to do the same thing to local television.
YouTube, which already boasts of being “the biggest news platform in the world,” has created a News Near You feature that senses a user’s location and serves up a list of relevant videos. In time, it could essentially engineer a local newscast on the fly. It is already distributing hometown video from dozens of sources, and it wants to add thousands more.
YouTube says it is helping TV stations and its other partners by creating a new — but so far not fiscally significant — source of revenue.
But news media companies may have reasons to be wary. Few TV stations have figured out how replicate profits on the Internet. YouTube can easily act as another competitor.
So for now, most of the YouTube videos near you come from nontraditional sources: radio stations, newspapers, colleges and, in the case of a fledgling San Francisco outfit called VidSF, three friends who despise the local TV diet of fires and homicides.
“It really levels the playing field,” said Kieran Farr, a founder of VidSF who covers the city’s culture and uploads his segments to YouTube.
News Near You, started in the spring, is only part of YouTube’s push into news video. This summer, the company invited the more than 25,000 news sources listed on Google News to become video suppliers. The site is also promoting videos from ABC News, The Associated Press, Reuters and other outlets.
This year, it began featuring breaking news videos — including ones submitted by citizens in Iran, where protests are being captured by cellphone users — on its home page.
So far, the localized videos are no replacement for a print or TV diet of news. On Sunday, visitors near Baltimore saw a news report about a teen assistance program; in Chicago they saw a WGN-TV feature about street performers; and in Los Angeles, they saw a review of an electric motorcycle produced by The Los Angeles Times. Producers often count the views in hundreds, not thousands.
To date, nearly 200 news outlets have signed up with YouTube to post news packages and split the revenue from the advertisements that appear with them. In addition, Google searches now show YouTube videos alongside news articles, helping the videos reach a wider audience.
YouTube’s sheer breadth — it is visited by 100 million Americans each month — makes it a powerful force for promotion, as well as a potential threat to entrenched media companies. And those companies already have more than enough to worry about: much of the local media marketplace has collapsed in recent years as classified ads have moved online, automakers have curtailed ad spending and news and entertainment options have proliferated.
YouTube, meanwhile, is still trying to turn a profit nearly three years after it was acquired by Google. Because copyright concerns prevent it from placing ads on amateur videos, it has striven to sign up professional partners to seed the site with ad-friendly content. News is one obvious option.
“Google can only gain by splitting revenue with people who have feet on the street in local markets,” said Terry Heaton, a senior vice president at AR&D, a company that advises locally focused media organizations.
Google said in June that it was pleased with YouTube’s trajectory and indicated that it expected the site to be profitable in the not-too-distant future, but did not specify when.
While YouTube can gain by adding local video, it remains to be seen whether established news outlets will benefit. Google’s scraping of print headlines and links has led some to assign blame to the company for the financial struggles of newspapers. The chief executive of Dow Jones recently called Google a “digital vampire” that was “sucking the blood” from newspapers by harvesting their free articles.
What YouTube is doing is somewhat different. It is not sending digital spiders around the Web to collect videos automatically; instead, it is asking news outlets to sign up as partners and promising a wider audience for their material.
YouTube’s push to organize local news video began in earnest in the spring when the News Near You module was introduced. The module uses the Internet address of a visitor’s computer to determine the user’s location and whether any partners are located within a 100-mile radius. If so, seven days of local videos are displayed.
But in many places, namely urban markets, 100 miles can hardly be counted as a local area; Steve Grove, the head of news and politics for YouTube, said, “we’ll get a smaller radius as we bring on more partners.”
Mr. Grove said about 5 percent of users who see the News Near You module watch at least one local news video, a rate that YouTube sees as encouraging.
“The relevancy factor kicks into gear,” he said. “Suddenly these videos actually matter to you because they’re about your neighborhood or where you live.”
YouTube’s arms-wide-open approach forces stations to judge whether YouTube is a friend or a foe, echoing a question that newspapers have grappled with for years. (Some have deemed Google a “frenemy.”)
“For stations, there won’t be significant revenue from YouTube in the short term,” said Andy Plesser, the editor of the online video site Beet.tv. That is partly because few of the videos reach an audience of millions, he said.
He also suggested that the local news feature faces resistance from station owners. “Many simply don’t see the value of being on YouTube,” he said.
In New York, the cable news channel NY1, for instance, said it was concentrating on drawing visitors to its own site, rather than sharing videos elsewhere.
“It’s an old conundrum,” Marc Nathanson, an executive producer of NY1.com, said. “When you have valuable content, do you make people come to you for it? Or do you put it out there to enhance the brand and hope that users find their way back to you for more?”
He guessed that NY1 would offer some videos on sites like YouTube in the future.
Meanwhile, a new breed of local news broadcasters — including ones without broadcasting licenses, the traditional barrier to entry in local markets — is emerging online.
“Radio stations, newspapers, universities, advocacy organizations, churches and other local groups, and individuals are becoming news producers,” Mr. Plesser said.
Mr. Heaton said stations should treat YouTube as a marketing machine for their old-fashioned television newscasts.
“As long as Google wants to pay for the bandwidth” to host videos, he said, “let them.”
Mr. Grove said YouTube had not met “a ton of resistance” from news outlets and the main reason there are so few participants is that the initiative is new.
Mr. Grove has stumbled across some local members, including The Dallas Morning News and The Cincinnati Enquirer, that he had not even known were on the site. (Any Internet user can create a YouTube account and start uploading videos free.) The New York Times created a YouTube channel in 2006 and has posted more than 1,300 videos on it, essentially highlighting some of the content on its own Web site.
National news, too, is being curated by the site. The “top headlines” section of the site collects videos from prominent TV sources and crossreferences them with the trends from Google News, then produces the equivalent of a 30-minute newscast for users to watch, either in full or from one segment to another.
In the future, more of the News Near You could come from people who do not report the news for a living. As the protests in Iran continue to demonstrate, citizens are able to provide much of the spot video from breaking news, even though they may lack the objectivity of professionals.
The new iPhone includes a video recording capability with a “send to YouTube” button, suddenly making it simple and fast to upload clips.
Rachel Sterne, the founder and chief executive of the citizen journalism site GroundReport, said the feature “trains laymen to be reporters.” And YouTube says it is developing tools to automatically spotlight those citizen videos as they come in.