NBC's Love/Hate Relationship With YouTube

What Everyone Is Talking About

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NEW YORK (Adage.com) -- Last week, when we were hot on the trail of Viacom going after YouTube for all the copyrighted clips of Jon Stewart, SpongeBob and Stephen Colbert showing up on the site, Watercooler heard Viacom had beat another media company to the punch when it issued its massive 100,000-clip takedown notice to the video-sharing site. We were told to sniff around with a company that rhymes with MDC.
NBC loads its own clips, like this one from 'Saturday Night Live,' on to YouTube.
NBC loads its own clips, like this one from 'Saturday Night Live,' on to YouTube.

Yesterday, NBC Universal raised its hand when new CEO Jeff Zucker told the Financial Times, "YouTube needs to prove that it will implement its filtering technology across its online platform. ... They have the capability. The question is whether they have the will."

The capability Zucker was referring to was YouTube's ability to keep pornography and hate videos off the site. (Mark Cuban challenged that filtering system by asking his BlogMaverick readers to upload as much porn as possible to YouTube to "see what happens.")

Traditional media companies want YouTube to filter out their copyrighted content, rather than having to approach YouTube with takedown notices for every single piece of copyrighted content that's uploaded, as is the law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

"The future of TV is in making money on the internet," said Aaron Cohen, CEO of Bolt.com. He knows all about the DMCA because Bolt has been working through legal battles with music labels. He said the DMCA is flawed and doesn't afford the appropriate protections for copyright owners.

"We inhabit an industry that moves at astonishing speed," he said. "But the reality of the situation is if we don't find a way to enable copyright owners to enforce their copyrights such as they can be appropriately compensated, then the entire system breaks down."

Perhaps the fast pace of change in the internet space -- and with YouTube particularly -- is why NBC Universal has appeared about as consistent as John Kerry when it comes to its attitude toward YouTube. While it has struck promotional deals with the site (prior to Google's acquisition of YouTube) that set up a system where NBC pays YouTube to promote clips of NBC shows to help pull in a bigger (and younger) audience, the network is also eying the site warily, believing it has the potential to overturn traditional TV business models. Earlier this week, outgoing NBCU CEO Bob Wright was quoted as calling Google a potentially "legitimate defendant."

And that gets to the heart of the debate between YouTube and major media companies. Is it an amazing promotional vehicle, with unbelievable reach and a highly engaged audience? ("It's unfortunate that Viacom will no longer be able to benefit from YouTube's passionate audience, which has helped to promote many of Viacom's shows," went YouTube's response to Viacom.) Or is it the future of TV? We're betting the $1.65 gamble Google made on YouTube means the web giant sees the site as more than just a promotional vehicle.
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