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YouTube in a 'fire drill' over risk of celebrity defections to Facebook

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Today, The Wall Street Journal relays information from insiders at Google who say "YouTube has been in a fire drill" trying to secure its most popular users and prevent them from fleeing to more generous rivals. That means bonuses for signing multiyear deals that secure YouTube limited-time exclusives on new content, or alternatively, bonuses tied to the traffic performance of videos.

Competing with YouTube is hard. It's the home of user-generated video on the web and has nurtured a number of hugely popular stars whose earnings now stretch into the millions of dollars each year. The value of those compelling personalities has grown even higher this year thanks to companies like Yahoo actively recruiting YouTube's stars for competing video services.

YouTube has "been increasing that support through a broad range of activities including marketing and content funding."

The chief threats to Google's hegemony are said to be Facebook and new video startup Vessel, the latter having been announced this summer by former Hulu CEO Jason Kilar. Vessel's plan is reportedly to lure away YouTube's biggest attractions with lucrative offers for 72-hour exclusives on new videos. The subscription-based service would then seek to establish itself as a premium alternative to YouTube, relying on the appeal of having the latest content first. It's expected to launch by the end of this year, which is apparently what's led to the "rare urgency" of Google's actions in trying to prevent an exodus of its most bankable users. A YouTube spokeswoman told the Journal that there's nothing unusual about the investment in video makers and that YouTube has "been increasing that support through a broad range of activities including marketing and content funding."

As the stars of YouTube begin to broaden their horizons — making money from product endorsements and other media like books — Google's grip on their marketability will inevitably slip. No one expects those who built their reputations on YouTube to abandon the service entirely, it's still too big and influential, but some of the biggest names might soon debut their latest stuff at other places on the web. That's the thing Google is now working to prevent, which may generate a whole new bidding war for the services of the web's most sought-after personalities.