YouTube vs. the boob tube
NBC stomped out video pirating of an SNL skit -- but did that stomp out its popularity too?
By Rob Kelley, staff writer

NEW YORK ( - NBC put out a serious fire this weekend, but critics aren't so sure they should have.

For the second time in a month, the network saw a video clip from its struggling "Saturday Night Live" show spread like wildfire across the Internet.

The Natalie Portman gangsta rap segment from Saturday's episode got 438,000 views in about 24 hours on the video hosting Web site, according to the Web site.

The hit explosion came just a month after a satirical rap skit on SNL called "Lazy Sunday" drew scores of Internet viewers, and spurred renewed interest in the sagging comedy show.

NBC sent notice to YouTube -- among other sites -- that the clip should be removed, and the site immediately took it down, putting up a notice that the clip had violated copyright laws.

Critics say that NBC may have missed out on an incredible promotional opportunity by halting the illegal spread of the clip.

NBC says the Portman segment -- as well as "Lazy Sunday" -- is already available for free in non-downloadable streaming form on its Web site, and provides an option for users to email a link to the video to their friends.

And "Lazy Sunday" can also be downloaded for $1.99 from Apple's iTunes Store.

But though the Portman clip is available, TV and technology experts say it could be even more widespread, which would have given NBC TV a big popularity boost.

"If some inspired people on the Internet find something that they really connect with and want to share it with other people, the TV networks need to realize that these are likely to be people they really want to reach, and that this is the kind of endorsement you couldn't pay enough for," said Melissa Grego, managing editor of TV Week.

They also distinguished between the short -- and small -- clips typically available on the web and long-form content on broadcast television.

"Short-form video is an appetizer and can be used to create an appetite as opposed to extinguishing it," said Michael Greeson, president of the Diffusion Group. "TV executives are used to thinking about television content as an end in itself, but they need to start seeing short-form as more of a promotional tool."

NBC also sent the warning notice -- a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notification letter -- to around 10 other Web sites. The network says it has served notice to sites hosting a total of 3,000 of its clips across the Web.

"We're trying to strike a balance between protecting the material and serving fans' needs. We recognize there's significant demand for this video and being able to watch it online," said NBC spokeswoman Julie Summersgill. "We're charged with finding new ways to distribute content -- and we've been pretty aggressive in pursuing digital distribution."

YouTube has been in constant contact with NBC over the last several weeks, promptly removing this and other offending content, said a site spokesperson.

By late Wednesday, however, another YouTube user had reposted the Portman clip.

Text above the videos on NBC's site reads: "Now, instead of searching the web for 'borrowed' NBC highlights, you can go to the source! We've taken your viral favorites and gathered them into one convenient location. Watch. React. Tell a friend."

But Greeson says that they need to realize that viral technology can be beneficial even outside of their immediate control.

"Because of their great concern for copyright infringement, they let their lawyers decide instead of their public relations people," he said.

"Copyright law is a funny thing -- you can choose to enforce it when you want to. They should have asked themselves 'Is this doing us any harm?'"


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