The D5 (All Things Digital) conference last week in Carlsbad will be remembered most for the reunion of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It was an interesting (if slightly sacharine) trip down memory lane, for sure. But in my view, one of the more striking segments was WSJ columnist and D5 co-producer Walt Mossberg’s grilling of YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. Whereas the luminaries who proceeded Hurley and Chen to the comfy red chairs supplied by sponsor SteelCase were treated to some tough Qs, the pair from YouTube looked to me like Christians being led to the lions den. Instead of being lionized (pun definitely intended) for their unbelievable success and rocket ride to financial success, they were pilloried with questions about Viacom’s lawsuit over copyright infringement and what, if anything, they were doing to get this popular new medium under some control. Chad Hurley did most of the talking, seeming uncomfortable and defensive during much of the session. Clearly his goal for this interview was to announce the EMI deal, which is a big thing for them. He also tried to get to his messaging about clearing up misconceptions about YouTube not taking any steps to educate users about copyright restrictions. This is where it all fell apart, with Walt Mossberg saying something like, "whoa whoa whoa! I’m on YouTube all the time and I haven’t seen this information. It degenerated from there.
You can read the transcript yourself. It doesn’t sound as bad when you read just the exchanges. But watching the young faces of the two founders — extremely bright and successful young entrepreneurs — I cringed for them, as they seemed so lost and unprepared for an encounter in front of this audience of luminaries with one of the toughest interviews in the industry, Walt Mossberg.
I commented to the man seated next to me that they were really taking it on the chin and he responded, "they don’t belong up there." I have to agree.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to take the "big opportunity" if your spokesperson really isn’t going to be well served by it in the long run. A number of years ago I saw the two young founders of Google being interviewed at the old Agenda conference before a similarly tough audience, but they were accompanied by Eric Schmidt. His experience and standing in the community helped them deal with the tougher questions. Schmidt had his own interview at D5. He came after Phillippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom, who followed the YouTube guys and explained firmly his reasons for suing YouTube for $1B because they are doing nothing to prevent infringement of his copyrighted material and he has to pay dozens of people to scour the medium constantly to protect his own property. IMHO, Dauman won this match. Watch the three yourself and see what you think. Dauman might not have prevailed if Google had spread its protective mantle over its acquisition.
Maybe next time.