U.N. Builds Special Video Relationships with Google, Brit Broadcaster

The United Nations has struck an under-the-radar deal involving its video content that apparently offers financial benefits to a private British digital online rebroadcaster and the ubiquitous search engine giant, Google.

Among other curious things, the deal was struck on the basis of a purely verbal agreement, according to a U.N. spokesman, even though the terms and conditions of use of U.N. video products expressly declares any sharing arrangement must involve a “letter of agreement with specific terms and conditions.”

Under the verbal arrangement, the rebroadcaster, a London-based company named Livestation, transmits video from the U.N.’s television facility, UNTV, along with a variety of United Nations video productions hosted on Google TV’s YouTube. Livestation has the same hosting arrangement with UNHCRTV, the streaming channel of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which also has a store of YouTube videos. Both arrangements date from the last months of 2009.

A link to Livestation is included on the U.N.’s own multimedia page, the same place where it lists the terms and conditions for use of U.N. materials.

The existence of the link means the U.N. itself is helping to drive internet traffic to the private rebroadcaster. Links to Livestation and YouTube appear to be the only non-U.N. links on the web page.

Livestation is not registered as a U.N. vendor, because, as a U.N. spokesman put it, “there is no need.” By way of additional explanation, the spokesman observed that “there is no exchange of revenue. They carry our signal free and we don’t charge for it, in keeping with our practice of offering our programming at no cost to broadcasters and other media.” (Fox News also makes occasional use of the free UNTV feed without a letter of agreement.)

But in addition to traffic, the relationship also seems to be driving at least some revenue for Livestation and Google, since commercial advertisements are placed on Livestation’s version of the UNTV page and alongside selected U.N. videos in YouTube format that are also displayed on the Livestation page. The ads come from AdSense, the proprietary Google business that distributes advertisements to independent publisher web pages and pays the website owner a percentage of the proceeds. (Fox News also has an AdSense deal for its own properties, which include branded YouTube channels.)

According to website experts familiar with the digital advertising business, Google’s share of the AdSense take in other deals can reach from 50 percent to 60 percent of the value of the ads.

Since the U.N. videos are in a YouTube format, they are also a Google TV product, making the search company part of both the publishing and vending equation.

The U.N. itself, according to a U.N. spokesman, derives no revenue from the Livestation arrangement, and supplies its materials free of charge to the British firm. As a matter of policy, the U.N. also provides its materials to other broadcasters and specifically “repurposes” them for CNN’s World Report.

Of the Livestation deal, the spokesman said, “This is a unique service that enabled us to offer UNTV to a broader audience on a non-exclusive basis.” He added that “Google has nothing to do with our arrangement with Livestation.”

The U.N. spokesman’s comments, however, do not cover any relationship between Livestation and Google. On Feb. 21, Fox News asked the British firm questions about its relationship with both the U.N and Google. Livestation acknowledged receipt of the questions, but had not provided answers before this story was published.

On Feb. 24, Fox News also asked the U.N. who, specifically, inside the world organization was involved in striking the verbal rebroadcasting agreement, but had not received an answer before this article was published.

Google does not have a direct commercial relationship of its own with the U.N., according to the spokesman, “We have a U.N. channel on YouTube but we don’t pay YouTube and Google does not share any revenue with us.”

To say the U.N. has only one channel on YouTube, however, greatly understates the rapidly deepening relationship between the world body and the search engine giant. As just one example, on its “sole” YouTube video channel the U.N. is “friended,” Facebook fashion, with scores of other YouTube channels that belong to a variety of U.N. funds, agencies, programs, regional offices, and projects. They are thus linked in an informal network. Additionally, other U.N. entities have their own, unlinked YouTube channels.

The other YouTube participants range from the huge United Nations Development Program (with a multiplicity of regional and national offices) to the U.N.-related World Bank to the United Nations Office on Sport for Peace and Development to the World Health Organization’s Stop Tuberculosis Department. A variety of U.N. peacekeeping missions also have their own channels.

Each channel appears to be steadily uploading videos into their respective Google TV/YouTube channels, promoting U.N. topics, themes and achievements, and broadening YouTube’s U.N. video inventory.

And at least one of the channels on the U.N.’s Google/YouTube network apparently does have commercial advertising adjacencies: the channel for the United Nations Population Program (UNFPA)

The audience for the various U.N.-affiliated YouTube channels varies greatly, but taken together they add millions of views to the Google/Youtube inventory, and to the potential commercial value of the informal network.

Moreover, the U.N. is taking steps to add to its videos’ appeal. In a report last August entitled “Questions Relating to Information,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon informed the General Assembly that the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, which spends more than $ 93 million annually, has taken “new steps to improve access to United Nations Television’s video material via the platform provided by YouTube, in part by paying greater attention to the selection of videos for posting and making their format and presentation more appealing.”

A similar makeover is visible on other YouTube channels with U.N. connections.

The U.N. is also planning to dramatically upgrade its video and digital production facilities in tandem with the $1.8 billion renovation of its main U.N. headquarters, which is supposed to be finished in 2013.

Along with the U.N. channels, Livestation offers online video streams from a number of other important partners, including some “premium” international services for which it charges $4.99 a month. These include Bloomberg Television, CNN International, the foreign services of CNBC, and three different language variations of Al Jazeera.

Among the non-premium, i.e. free, services offered are a variety of state-owned or –supported broadcasting networks in Europe, such as the BBC World Service, Moscow-based RT, France 24—and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s English-language Press TV, broadcasting the fundamentalist regime’s view of the world from Tehran.

Another one of the free viewing channels is NASA TV, the streaming channel of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Founded in 2008, Livestation has enjoyed a huge boom in viewership in recent weeks, due to the crises in Egypt and Lebanon.

How far it plans to extend its U.N. and YouTube viewing menu, and the attendant advertising play, is not known.

Nor is it known how far the sprawling global U.N. system and Google itself intends to expand what appears to be a new advertising opportunity that is being developed with resources that the taxpayer-supported United Nations provides for free.

George Russell is executive editor of Fox News