"I'm what's left, I'm what's right
I'm the enemy
I'm the hand that will take you down
Bring you to your knees

So who are you?"

-- "The Pretender," by Foo Fighters

It's pretty clear that Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) will play a role in the digital video market for years to come. Its YouTube video hub isn't going away. But what role will it play, exactly?

Figure it out!
Media maven and passable foxtrotter Mark Cuban has it all figured out: If traditional broadcast, satellite, and cable TV stands for real-time news and entertainment, including sporting events, and Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) provides a huge catalog of long-form, prerecorded media, then YouTube becomes the discount bin at the megamart.

Everything is disposable and practically worthless, but that's OK, because it's free. "YouTube is Community Access Television for the world," Cuban says. That's a knock on production and business values in YouTube content; the service "just ain't what it ain't."

Google wants to do better than that, of course. Last week saw the introduction of YouTube Live, where you can watch concerts, sporting events, and news broadcasts as they happen. Sound familiar? Yep, Google wants some of what Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and DIRECTV (Nasdaq: DTV) are having -- a live audience for real-time events that get less valuable after the first broadcast.

What have we got here?
YouTube Live has begun as a limited selection of handpicked events, but YouTube hopes to enable live streams for "thousands of partners" in coming months. As I write this, the only two live streams available are a cricket match from the Indian Premier League and a test broadcast from a Spanish station. Of these, the cricket throwdown is delayed to us Yanks because of "regional restrictions." Later today, I'm promised keynotes from a tech conference and ... well, a bunch of homebrews that would feel right at home on Community Access Television in Aurora, Illinois. (Party on, Wayne. Party on, Garth.)

Google has tried moving in the other direction before, but its movie-rental platform fizzled out immediately. And it looks like this effort will only create a new form of amateurish schlock with even lower production values, due to these videos' live, raw, unedited format.

Maybe Google can work out the kinks in the format, encourage its content providers to keep archival copies of stuff like keynotes for later perusal, and curate the new flood of user-generated streams in some way. Perhaps that'll make something useful, attractive, even profitable out of YouTube Live. Maybe. Perhaps.

But probably not.

What now?
In the meantime, you'll have a full season of almost-live Indian cricket action. I don't think Comcast needs to worry too much.

In fact, the tables might turn soon enough. Traditional broadcasting is gearing up to attack the likes of YouTube and Netflix on their digital home turf. The AT&T (NYSE: T) U-Verse and Verizon (NYSE: VZ) FiOS services are cable-replacement services based on common Internet standards, and they could make the jump out of your living room in a heartbeat. DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH) just bought bankrupt Blockbuster's assets in order to make an online play of some sort (though I'm not sure what Blockbuster really adds to that equation).

Maybe Google should give Mr. Cuban a call.

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This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.