Viacom: Stupid like a fox?

I have to be honest: I’m not sure whether Viacom’s new plan for The Daily Show is a great idea or a really dumb idea (I’m also leaving open the possibility that it’s somewhere in between those two). The network — which has been feuding with YouTube for almost a year now over various clips of John Stewart that keep popping up on the site — is launching a site dedicated to the show, which will offer more than 13,000 clips dating back to the very beginning.

According to this story in the LA Times, Viacom has spent a lot of time tagging and identifying clips so that they can be searched and aggregated by topic, guests, etc. –and even plans to allow users to take part in the cataloguing to some extent, Wikipedia-style. In the piece, the head of digital media at Comedy Central thanks YouTube for jolting Viacom executives into awareness:

“Without YouTube, he said, Viacom might not have recognized the true value of the archives and dragged its feet in digitally archiving and tagging” the clips.”

Henry “I used to be a famous Wall Street analyst” Blodget thinks Viacom’s move is dumb. He thinks the network should quit suing YouTube (which it says it is still going ahead with) and upload all of its clips to the site. Part of me thinks that he’s right — why not make use of the service that everyone already associates with The Daily Show anyway? Plus it comes with built-in Flash encoding, easy embedding, commenting tools, etc.

At the same time, however, YouTube has constraints. Clips tend to be short and poor quality, for example — and to a large extent that’s what users have come to expect. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to do the kind of tagging and other things that Viacom is talking about, and even if they could be done they might be wasted on an audience that just wants to watch a funny clip.

I think (as my friend Steve Bryant at the Hollywood Reporter does) that in an ideal world Viacom would do both: upload short clips to YouTube and let people embed them wherever they want, and then have a much larger storehouse of longer clips and entire shows — all tagged and catalogued, with added features and possibly even HD content — at its own site.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.