Analysis

Inside YouTube Content ID: a blessing or busted flush for music?


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Despite being located in the capital of the most expensive country in Europe (and the second most expensive in the world after Bermuda), Google’s offices in Switzerland are – from the outside – surprisingly nondescript.

Slate grey bar the occasional flash of colour with the Google logo, it sits on the former site of a brewery but could be any office in any industrial park in any major city.

Inside, of course, is a very different matter. An explosion of geek-centric interior design, each of its seven floors has a theme – like “sky” (it’s the top floor), “sports” and “jungle”.

There are canteens and cafés on most floors, offering staff free food and drinks during the day. There is a massage room. There is a meditation room. There is a gym. There is a “power-nap” room whose only source of light is from backlit fish tanks. There’s a room set up for bands to play, with giant posters of Prince, Madonna, The Beatles and Bob Dylan on the walls.

There are reclaimed cable cars fitted out as meeting rooms (of course there are) and private pods to relax in or make calls from. There’s a full-time hairdresser, so large are the staff numbers now. Yes, there’s also a slide leading into the ground floor canteen.

On the “jungle” floor, there’s a room packed tightly with giant potted plants, like a mini botanic garden, and casually sitting by a meeting pod is a full-size plastic crocodile with a plastic doll’s arm lodged in its jaws.

(Keen fans of heavy handed visual metaphors for relationships between the tech industry and the music industry will have a field day with that one.)

Zurich was Google’s first engineering site in Europe, opening in 2004 with a staff of two. It’s now up to 1,800 employees and YouTube takes up the top three floors of the building, housing Google’s biggest engineering team outside of the US. This, our guides tell us, is where “the Content ID magic” happens. (There will be several references to “magic” during our time here but it’s one of those hyperbolic words that is best swatted away like a fat bluebottle when it comes up.)

Music Ally is in Zurich to speak to the team behind Content ID and to see how it works as well as how it is evolving. The engineering team works from around 11am to 7pm (to be able to do conference calls with head office in California) and alongside Content ID, they are working on improving upload speeds, refining the video platform’s analytics and extending the tools offered out to creators.

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Eamonn Forde

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