Why do we need a YouTube Canada?

(this is cross-posted from my Globe and Mail blog)

YouTube launched a Canadianized version of the popular video-sharing site at a press conference on Tuesday, the latest in a series of international versions that have been launched over the past few months, including YouTube Brazil, YouTube Poland and YouTube Ireland.

The press conference — which had a giant mockup of the YouTube home page as a backdrop, with a big-screen TV where the video player would be — featured a live performance by singer Naomi Streimer (who recently released a single on YouTube) as well as a panel of Canadian YouTube “stars” such as Mememolly, an 18-year-old from Ottawa who said she was inspired to upload videos by watching Lonelygirl15.

Even after all the panels and presentations by various YouTube staffers, however, one question remained largely unanswered: Why does a website like YouTube need a Canadian version? Does it matter where the videos come from? Does a clip of someone singing or a funny video of a cat have more impact if we know it’s a Dutch singer or a French cat?

In other words, do Canadians want to watch Canadian content or do they just want to be entertained?

With some sites, such as YouTube Brazil or YouTube Italy, there’s obviously a language issue. But Canada doesn’t really fall into that category, despite a YouTube executive’s joking reference to a search for videos related to the term “beaver tail” or the word “loonie.” (Memo to that YouTube staffer: Don’t quit your day job for a career in standup comedy).

As an example, two members of the YouTube “star” panel belong to a group of young comedians from Halifax called Picnicface. One of their YouTube clips is a fake TV ad for a Powerade-style sports drink called PowerThirst, which lampoons all the over-hyped language and ridiculously exaggerated claims that are used in such ads. It’s hilarious.

Does it matter that Picnicface is from Halifax? I’m not sure it does. In fact, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t, or at least not to me. I remember watching the clip a few months ago after it popped up in my RSS feeds and thinking it was funny. But it didn’t occur to me to care where it came from — it came from YouTube, and that was all that mattered.

In addition to Picnicface and Mememolly, the panel also included a YouTube user who calls himself Ghostwise (otherwise known as Chris Binkowski, an Ottawa man with muscular dystrophy who uploads videos about his life), and a Toronto man known as The Wine Kone, who admitted that he was really just “some random weird Internet guy.”

YouTube also had several new Canadian partners at the news conference, including the CBC, Dose.ca, the CommandN video blog and a site called NewsCanada. Partners are featured in a special location on the YouTube home page, and the company says it plans to share advertising revenue with its partners at some point in the future.

One spokeswoman for YouTube said clips from the Canadian version of the site might make their way to the home page at YouTube.com as well, in the same way that videos from anywhere do — that is, by being watched a lot or voted up by users. She said there was no specific program of featuring specific geographical content at YouTube.com.

If having a Canadian version of the portal doesn’t really have much impact in terms of raising the profile of content creators, then what’s the rationale for a localized site at all? One possible answer is that it’s an advertising play, since a YouTube executive said that advertisers would be able to buy ads specifically targeted to the Canadian site as well as to the entire YouTube audience. Globe reporter Matt Hartley has more in his story.

Another YouTube staffer said that the site won’t be doing IP redirecting for now — that is, sending a visitor to YouTube.ca if their IP address is located in Canada. But she said the site might do so in the future, if they thought it would make for “a better user experience.”

It appears that YouTube might already be doing some kind of traffic spotting — that is, looking at the location of the IP address you’re coming from. When I went to YouTube.com, a video promotion for the Canadian site showed up along with other Canadian content, and when I went to the British version (uk.youtube.com) the top “promoted videos” included two episodes of the CTV comedy Corner Gas.

BlogTV.ca, a video-sharing site launched with much fanfare this year by Alliance Atlantis, tried to use IP redirection to create a Canadian-only video site. Anyone who went to BlogTV.com was automatically sent to BlogTV.ca, where only Canadian content was available. The site failed to develop an audience, however, and was merged with the broader BlogTV.com site (which is owned by a different company) in September.

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