Hey Ma! They got TV on the Internet now!

After much rumour and innuendo, as well as some sabre-rattling in the direction of Google and YouTube — or at least Comedy Central-rattling — News Corp. and NBC have announced a joint venture to provide network television, movies and other content online. The hype-infested press release is here, and all of the Techmeme discussion is here. But the big question is: Will this be (as Google has reportedly dubbed it) Clown Co., or is it a YouTube-killer?

The press release makes it sound like the Second Coming: Full-length TV shows, video clips that you can “mashup” or whatever it is you kids call it on the Intarweb — and all free for the taking.

“Full episodes and clips from current hit shows, including Heroes, 24, House, My Name Is Earl, Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Lights, The Riches, 30 Rock, The Simpsons, The Tonight Show, Prison Break, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader and Top Chef….

… will be available free, on an ad-supported basis, within a rich consumer experience featuring personalized video playlists, mashups, online communities and video search.”

Sounds great, don’t it? Of course, as Mark Cuban notes here, the gap between press release promises and reality can be vast. How much of this content will be free versus pay — and how much will the fees be for the latter? What kind of DRM will be used? Will we be able to fast-forward, rewind, pause, etc.? Will only a few token clips (of the networks’ choosing) be provided for embedding or mashing? Mike Arrington has notes from the conference call, but many questions remain unanswered.

Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 says the news is an admission that the content-creation business is dying, and he could be right. To me, the tone of the press release suggests that this particular Holy Grail is primarily an advertising venture — and that’s generally not a good sign. Like Valleywag, the first thing this reminded me of was MusicNet, the record companies’ much-hyped response to Napster, which crashed and burned shortly after leaving the runway.

Of course, the networks could provide all kinds of DRM-free content, free for the asking, embeddable anywhere, full-length, etc. Or not. My friend Paul Kedrosky thinks that NewTube could be successful enough that it and YouTube could co-exist for some time (although he is skeptical of NewTube’s ability to pick hits). Like Stan Schroeder at Frantic Industries, I’m willing to bet that NBC and News Corp. will find some way — or, more likely, dozens of ways — to screw this up royally.

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