Thursday, November 08, 2007

Oprah Discovers YouTube, Is Shocked It Somehow Managed To Become Successful Without Her Ringing Endorsement

YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen made the pilgrimage to O-town on Monday, appearing as guests on The Oprah Winfrey Show, which dedicated the entire episode to the video sharing site and its rising stars.

Her O'ness told the audience, "YouTube founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, who rarely grant interviews because of their busy schedules , say they were inspired during a dinner party at Steve's San Francisco home...."

Ahem. If I may interject. I interviewed this duo for a freelance article I wrote for Rolling Stone a year-and-a-half ago. While it's true that they rarely grant interviews, it's not because of "busy schedules," although I don't doubt that their calendars are packed. It's because they're trying to mask the fact that despite having conceived and launched an internet sensation, they actually kind of have no idea what they're doing. This was my impression anyway. They've wisely surrounded themselves with high security gatekeeper publicists to micromanage their every move and quote to give the impression that they’re shrewd businessmen and technology savants. And, frankly, they pulled it off brilliantly, playing Microsoft off of Google like a co-ed flirting with two dudes at rival fraternities until Google sealed the deal with their staggering offer of $1.65 billion.

They're equally savvy with the media. Here’s what happened when I approached them about doing a profile:

First they asked that I send in the questions via email, which they would then answer via email. Er no, I can't just email you the questions so that you can pass them on to your publicist, have her write some canned answers and then send them back to me. (Also, they wanted to limit me to only five questions. Dubya tee eff?)

After much negotiating, they finally agreed to do a phoner with both their publicist and manager conferenced in on the line. And? They chimed in. Chimed! Allow me to explain. It's not unusual for a publicist or manager to listen in while a journalist interviews their client. Annoying, yes, but not rare. However, there's a literal unspoken rule that the publicist will sit there silently and only say something in the event that you ask an inappropriate question or say something patently offensive like, "Hey Richard Gere! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me! Say, I've got a joke for you: What did the gerbil say when Richard Gere walked into the pet store? Woof! Ha – get it?" And, even then, it's usually just a hearty throat-clearing to signal the reporter to cut out the shenanigans and move on.

Yet these two fully joined in the discourse! They routinely interrupted and answered for Chad and Steve (particularly whenever the term "copyright infringement" came up), which made the whole process incredibly difficult. Another problem? The guys gave me almost exactly the same quotes and anecdotes they’d give the other publications they had spoken to. I was left on a tight deadline with an interview full of stock half-quotes and the spokeswoman's chirpy interjections. And don't even ask about a follow-up interview. They probably would've wanted to conduct it entirely in Facebook status updates.

Whatever. The article turned out fine. Steve and Chad's unvarnished giddiness is actually pretty endearing. And as I said earlier, I don't blame the guys for shrouding themselves in spokesbots. It's understandable. Hell, the gold hoop earring alone needs its own publicist.

(Here is a video of Chad and Steve on YouTube talking about talking about YouTube on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It's so meta! If you look under your chairs, you'll find your own imploded heads.)


mamis62 said...

actually kind of have no idea what they're doing

As a former software engineer, I can assure you that NOBODY has any idea what they're doing; the industry just moves too quickly. The YouTubers make me nostalgic, actually; unpolished liars are charming, while polished liars are sleazy.

Also, that Richard Gere joke just never gets old.

Erica said...

Interesting post - people bluffing their way through success are amusing.