LimeWire media deal: It’s no joke

According to a report in Fortune, the file-sharing network LimeWire has signed a deal with Comedy Central that will make it easy for users of the peer-to-peer application to find and buy legal versions of comedy videos from Lewis Black, Mitch Hedberg (who appears in the video embedded here, a clip from the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal) and others. LimeWire opened a download store in March, but until now it has consisted primarily of content from small record labels and independent artists. The addition of licensed content will make for an interesting test: Are LimeWire users willing to pay for content that they like, provided it’s easy to do so? Or are they dedicated to pirating it no matter what?

Jack Vaughn, head of Comedy Central Records, said that the network doesn’t like piracy, but that it is looking for ways to expose its content to as many new audiences as possible, and LimeWire fits that bill: “We looked at the Lime Wire Store, and we said, ‘Are they going to pay? Are they going to pay on time, and are they going to expose our artists to a new audience?’ The answer was yes.” Whether this attitude shift will help the P2P network in its ongoing fight with music labels over the copyright-infringing content on the system remains to be seen. In an unrelated move, the co-founder of the Kazaa P2P network is also trying to help such networks go legit.

Hey Canadians: No Daily Show for you

If you like satire and you don’t mind staying up late, you’re probably a fan of The Daily Show, that great showcase for the satirical jabs of Jon Stewart. If that’s the case, you might have been overjoyed to hear that Comedy Central (which is part of MTV, which in turn is part of Viacom) recently launched a website with 13,000 or so clips from the show, including some of the most-loved episodes.

Finally, you may have thought to yourself — after months of fighting with YouTube over clips from the show (which routinely appear and then are quickly removed), Viacom has decided that giving viewers what they want over the Internet is the right way to go. Bravo.

The only problem with that rosy little scenario is that Viacom’s largesse — like every other U.S. TV network that has decided to stream popular shows from their website — is completely unavailable to Canadian viewers (and to viewers in other countries as well). You can go to the website and click on a video, but you don’t get anything. To add insult to injury, the pre-roll advertising spot that Viacom has sold for the clip plays just fine, but is followed by a black screen — a screen that might as well say “Hey non-U.S. viewers — look at all the stuff you can’t watch.”

Why can’t you watch The Daily Show clips? The same reason you can’t watch an episode of Heroes on the website the day after it plays on TV, and the same reason you can’t download TV episodes from iTunes: Canadian networks like Global and CTV have paid for the right to broadcast those shows, and would no doubt raise a hue and cry if they were suddenly available for free on the Internet. That might destabilize the entire Canadian broadcasting business model, which relies on access to U.S. hits.

Update: On a more recent visit to The Daily Show website, I was automatically redirected to thecomedynetwork.ca, which carries episodes of the Comedy Central show in Canada (after a pseudo-friendly message popped up saying how “some jerk blocked ComedyCentral.com” and that this was a “load of crap,” but that clicking on the link would take you to The Comedy Network for all your favourites “and a whole whack of homegrown hilarity”).

You can watch some recent episodes of The Daily Show at the Canadian site, but there is only a small selection, in contrast to the complete show archive that is available at the U.S. site. I guess it’s better than a blank screen, but not by much.

This Just In: We’re just not that funny

Another one destined for the “No Surprise” file: HBO is planning to shut down its comedy-video site This Just In (I know, I’d never heard of it either) in August, according to Variety magazine. Why? Because — as one NBC executive admitted when the network shut down its InnerTube site, which was supposed to compete with YouTube — This Just In might as well have changed its URL to “nobodycomeshere.com.”

thisjustinlogo.pngTwo of the most succinct appraisals of this turkey come from a commenter on the TechCrunch post about it and from Om Malik at NewTeeVee. At TechCrunch, Ian Bell says: “Unfortunately this goes to show that you can’t just slap a site together, throw ads up on it, buy keywords and think it will be successful. A successful property requires its own culture and essentially a ‘soul’.” Bingo. And Om notes that gigantic conglomerates with multiple layers of bureaucracy and poisonous office politics are not exactly a great breeding ground for comedy:

“The big media, especially Time Warner (my former employer) is a tad clueless about this new video revolution. With a studio mentality, management by consensus and a bonus-driven culture, they are waddling in a world that moves at light speed.”

Double bingo. And examples abound of just how clueless network executives are, and how flinging money and press releases at something doesn’t amount to much in the world of online video: Come on down, Bud.tv — one of the most expensive, and yet almost criminally un-funny, sites you will ever see. And then there’s FunnyOrDie.com, which features Saturday Night Live star Will Farrell. Why does it work? Because it’s funny, that’s why.

Ze Frank knows what’s going on

In the New York Times magazine this weekend was a longish piece on comedians who are using the Web as a medium for their comedy, including the two guys who do Ask A Ninja — and way down at the end of the article is a section on one of my favourite online comics, the incomparable Ze Frank.

I forget how I came across The Show, as Ze (which is apparently short for Hosea) calls his daily vlog — in which he mostly just stares into the camera at close range and does a rapid-fire monologue on various things, much of it without blinking — but I have been devoted to it ever since, even though I can’t really explain the attraction. Sometimes it is hilarious, sometimes it is just plain weird.

What’s also fascinating is the community that has developed around The Show, with message boards (in which Ze regularly appears to respond to comments), and the micro-patronage campaign he recently started where viewers can buy small jewel icons or large plastic ducky icons to put on the site as a way of supporting the show. Ze also regularly asks viewers and forum members for suggestions.

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In the article, Ze makes it clear that one of the reasons he doesn’t like YouTube is that it removes his pieces from that community:

For me, the show itself is far less interesting than everything around it. And if you stick it on YouTube, out of context, it loses all the inside jokes, all the responses, the history of what led up to that show. The framing gets lost.

Is he right to turn his back on the viral magic of YouTube? I can’t say. But he says he’s happy with what he makes from the post-roll ads and other things he sells — and perhaps he is right. Devotion to the community might be the best thing he has going for him.