Grammy Week: YouTube's Robert Kyncl Faces Tough Crowd of Lawyers

Ron Wilcox (left), Chairman of the Entertainment Law Initiative; Robert Kyncl, center, Head of Content for YouTube; and Neil Portnow, President of the Recording Academy

Alex Pham/Billboard

The music industry's top lawyers laid aside their copyright swords the Friday before the Grammy Awards to host a keynote from YouTube's Head of Content, Robert Kyncl (recently put at No. 45 on our Power 100).

Kyncl acknowledged the sometimes contentious relations between content owners represented by many of the attorneys in attendance and his own company over the years, but emphasized the symbiosis of the two.

"We're often pitted as adversaries," Kyncl said, at the Entertainment Law Initiative event in Beverly Hills benefitting the Grammy Foundation, "but I think we are better off with music, and we think music is better off with YouTube."

Kyncl, who grew up in the Czech Republic "behind the Iron Curtain," described the disconnect between content and technology as being analagous to Switzerland and India. In the pre-Internet days, the market for music was much like Switzerland, with clean, orderly streets and a closed, comfortable environment. Today, the market is more like India, where the noise level is high, chaos reigns and there is unlimited shelf space on crowded streets.

In this environment, "brands will matter more than ever," he said, urging the industry to use YouTube to promote their own brands.

He also advocated for the advertising model, saying that audience growth will increasingly come from Asia, Latin America and Africa, where incomes are not necessarily high.

"YouTube has a billion viewers a month today," Kyncl said. "In a few more years, it will be several billion. But these won't necessarily be wealthy people." As a result, advertising will be the primary method of monetization, he said.

The event, now in its sixteenth year, has traditionally invited controversial speakers for its keynote. Two years ago, it hosted Spotify's Chief Executive, Daniel Ek, at a time when the music industry was concerned that streaming music was eating into download and CD sales.

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"It's no secret that many of YouTube and Google's advocacy positions run counter to those that the recording industry takes," said Neil Portnow, the President and CEO of the Recording Academy (No. 61 on our Power 100 alongside his Grammy Awards peers). "But this is a forum for dialogue. YouTube is an important service and part of our world. Putting everyone together in a room is always a healthy way of finding common ground."

The lunch also honored Hollywood power attorney, Donald Passman, who represents Green Day, Randy Newman and many other artists, and is the author of "All You Need to Know About the Music Business," which describes in easy-to-digest language the legal landmines in the music industry.

In his introduction of Passman, Newman quipped about Passman's book, "It's not Dostoevsky, but parts of it are grim."

"Someone once asked me what it's like to break into the music business," Newman said. "I said that breaking into the music business is like breaking into a bank after it's been robbed."

The industry continues to face revenue challenges, even as new digital distribution models are invented, Passman acknowledged in an interview.

"We're moving into the streaming world," Passman said of the legal challenges that lie ahead in 2014 for his clients and the industry in general. "And there are issues around how we make that transition."