The media's recent legal and competitive challenges to Internet video pioneer YouTube haven't fazed co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, who have diligently sought to make money for new owner Google Inc., as well as the creators of the content that fuels their Web site's whirlwind growth.
"We have been a little bit silent, but we haven't been sleeping," Chen told The Associated Press during the duo's first extensive interview since Google closed its $1.76 billion purchase of YouTube last November.
The leaders of the online video revolution declined the AP's request to videotape the interview.
During an hour-long discussion, Hurley and Chen indicated that a long-awaited platform for showing video ads could be ready within the next couple months, although Google's recently announced $3.1 billion acquisition of online ad distributor DoubleClick Inc. could delay things.
They also said developing more effective tools to identify videos that violate copyrights remains a priority, and not just because YouTube and Google face several copyright infringement lawsuits that include a $1 billion claim by Viacom Inc.
Developing better methods of detecting protected material will pave the way for YouTube to work with copyright holders to negotiate more revenue-sharing agreements that include its vast community of users, Hurley said.
"We will be able to reduce the clutter of stuff that people don't even watch on our site," he said. "That will give us more opportunities to reward the people that are really creating great content for our system."
In its first step toward that goal, YouTube earlier this month said it was negotiating revenue-sharing agreements with contributors whose videos become big hits.
Yet Hurley believes YouTube would thrive even if Hollywood studios and music labels had all of their material removed from the site.
"What our users want to watch is themselves," he said. "They don't want to watch professionally produced content. There are so many people with cameras that have the opportunity to create their own content and so many more people with editing tools to tell their stories, we feel this is just the tip of the iceberg."
Because of its emphasis on grainy, homemade videos, YouTube isn't worried about the efforts of NBC Universal and News Corp. to launch their own Internet video channel this summer. Nor are they concerned about another site, Joost, that has gained the backing of major media like Viacom and CBS.
Those alternatives all seem interested in providing slick, lengthy videos akin to traditional television programming rather than invading YouTube's niche of serving up two- to three-minute clips, Hurley said. "We have never been about full-length programming. We have never been about high-quality. We don't really see ourselves building the largest audience by moving in that direction."
Hurley said YouTube now streams more than 200 million videos each day while adding more than 200,000 videos to its library.
"YouTube is becoming much more than an entertainment destination," Hurley said, citing the political, news and instructional videos that have poured into YouTube in recent months. "We want to entertain, inform and empower people with video around the world."
Toward that end, YouTube plans to create specialized Web addresses to serve countries outside the United States. Foreign viewers already watch about 70 percent of the videos streamed on YouTube, Hurley said.
Hurley, now 30, and Chen, 28, never envisioned having such a huge impact on society a little more than two years ago when they began working in a Silicon Valley with another friend, Jawed Karim, to develop an easy way to share videos online.
Karim left YouTube before it became a cultural phenomenon, leading to the Google deal that turned Hurley and Chen into very wealthy, high-tech celebrities. They both received Google stock now worth more than $325 million, but their lifestyles haven't changed that much so far, they said.
"Hopefully, we come across as accessible and humble," Chen said. "I try to spend as much time with the same friends and people that were around before the whole user phenomenon started. I do pay for more dinners now than I did."
YouTube itself is still trying to justify its hefty sales price. Despite its huge audience, the company generated about $15 million in revenue last year, based on figures provided in Google's annual report.
Although YouTube already has been showing some ads, analysts don't expect the site to begin generating dividends until it starts showing video ads. Hurley said YouTube has been testing ways to target video ads based on the type of content being watched, coupled with viewer's demographics and physical location. That approach mirrors some of the methods that have helped establish Google as the Internet's most profitable company.
The ads only will be shown if a viewer chooses to watch them, Hurley said. Rolling out the new system becomes "a little more complicated with DoubleClick in the mix, to be honest with you. We want to roll out with an ad strategy that is going to be effective and unified with Google's plans."
On the copyright front, YouTube is working with Los Gatos-based Audible Magic Corp. to flag unauthorized music posted on site, Chen said. Developing a "digital fingerprinting" technology to track video copyrights is proving to be more vexing simply because it has never been done very effectively before.
"There are companies putting out press releases after they meet with us about their copyright tools and what they are doing," Hurley said. "But basically they're just learning about what we are doing. We don't feel the need to put a press release out there because we are actually working on it and building these tools."
Once the new copyright tools are finished, Hurley believes more media will view YouTube as friend rather than foe.
"We are working with media companies not only to create new models, but help them stay relevant (and) get in front of this new audience that is spending time in different places," he said.