Turkey lifts its ban on YouTube

1 Nov 2010 by Randall Helms, 1 Comment »

One of the interesting things that I’ve learned from the travels of my good friend Eric Luk (who is currently hitch-hiking from London to Hong Kong) is that YouTube is banned in Turkey.

I had no idea!

Actually, although I say is banned, that’s no longer true, since today has brought news that Turkey has lifted its ban, which was originally put in place to combat videos that the Turkish government saw as ‘defaming’ Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic:

Transport Minister Binali Yildirim, who is in charge of internet issues, said the government had been in contact with Google, which owns YouTube. Mr Yildirim said there was no longer any reason to ban the website, because the offending videos had been removed …

Speaking on Turkish television on Saturday, Mr Yildirim said the ban had been lifted after “common sense prevailed”. “But we didn’t get here easily – we have been through a lot in the process,” he told NTV.

“I hope that they have also learned from this experience and the same thing will not happen again. YouTube will hopefully carry out its operations in Turkey within the limits of law in the future,” he added. In a statement, YouTube said that it had received reports that some users in Turkey were once again able to access its content.

And indeed they can, a point proven by Eric when he now posted a video of a Gaziantep baklava shop:

This is quite an interesting story in several ways. Firstly, because it is an illustration, like Pakistan’s brief ban of Facebook over the ‘Draw Mohammed Day’ controversy earlier this year, that global web endeavours can still run afoul of powerfully-held local emotions. Secondly, although this looks like a victory for YouTube, in a short-term business sense, it might not actually be that much of a boon to them, because, as the New York Times reported last year, the boom in developing world web audiences has not been matched by a similar boom in advertising revenues:

Web companies that rely on advertising are enjoying some of their most vibrant growth in developing countries. But those are also the same places where it can be the most expensive to operate, since Web companies often need more servers to make content available to parts of the world with limited bandwidth. And in those countries, online display advertising is least likely to translate into results.

This intractable contradiction has become a serious drag on the bottom lines of photo-sharing sites, social networks and video distributors like YouTube. It is also threatening the fervent idealism of Internet entrepreneurs, who hoped to unite the world in a single online village but are increasingly finding that the economics of that vision just do not work.

It will be interesting to see if the major global social media players will be able to effectively monetize the undoubted desire for their services in major emerging markets like Turkey. Personally, I think that what works for the post-industrial nations is not particularly exportable, given the huge gap in online advertising revenues, so Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other major social media services should give their local operations much greater flexibility to develop their own revenue-raising solutions. What form that takes is open to question, but it could involve micro-payments (which would work in places where most people access the internet via mobile phones), or it could involve co-branding deals or sponsorships or special events or even something radical like building out bandwidth to lower the cost of operations.

In any case, it’s not essential for me to spell out exactly how to do this right now (especially because I would need to think about it much more seriously for much longer), because my central point is that because an advertising-based model is unlikely to bring much in the way of rewards in those countries where user growth (and bandwidth consumption) is far outstripping revenue growth, it is therefore absolutely crucial to think creatively about how to raise revenues for those social media services that want to best take advantage of the developing world’s online boom.

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