NBC plus YouTube = Crazy Litigious

by Mathew on February 20, 2006 · 5 comments

As an example of the kind of “viral marketing” that the Internet can achieve with very little effort, the so-called “Lazy Sunday” video from Saturday Night Live is about as good as it gets. In the clip, which was aired on December 17, comedians and show writers Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg perform a rap about how much they love cupcakes, and take a trip to see the movie The Chronicles of Narnia. The combination of the subject matter and the gangster-style rap made the video a huge hit over the Christmas holidays, to the point where it was downloaded more than five million times in just a couple of days.

What great advertising for NBC and the show Saturday Night Live, right? After all, the success of the video led to stories being written in the New York Times and elsewhere about both the writers and the show itself. So what did NBC do — send a cheque and a big thank-you to YouTube and other sites that helped to drive this Internet phenomenon? Er, no. They sent a letter from their solicitors, telling the site to remove the video or face legal action.

NBC’s argument, of course, is that this is a blatant copyright violation, and that viewers should be forced to go to NBC’s website to see the clip (where it can be watched free of charge) or to download it from iTunes for $1.99 (U.S.). Why? So that NBC can make money from it, obviously. What seems to have escaped the network’s mind is the fact that the video already aired on the program, and therefore has made as much revenue as any episode of the show normally does, not to mention the fact that the attention the video got could drive thousands more people to watch future shows. As usual, the network seems prepared to sacrifice all that free marketing for a little short-term profit. And that’s why it’s called “old” media.

Update:

I wish I could take credit for the headline on this post, which my friend Paul Kedrosky so kindly mentioned as part of the Chronicles of Narnia memewatch, but as it turns out Pete Cashmore of Mashable used it first. Nice job, Pete. I guess great minds think alike :-)

Update 2:

Paul Kedrosky points to a post at Data Mining that describes how NBC might have gotten things just right — let the video go viral and get lots of attention, then pull it back once the heat has subsided.

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