Viacom moves on without YouTube

Viacom offers a peek at its strategy--sans YouTube--for promoting video clips from its Comedy Central channel. Image: This Jon Stewart clip could be yours

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
4 min read
Viacom moves on without YouTube NEW YORK--Viacom may not miss YouTube as much as some people think.

Viacom representatives have been quietly telling industry insiders this week that they plan to aggressively promote their revamped ComedyCentral.com Web site. Viacom executives here at the Media Summit Conference won't say exactly what they intend to do, but it's already apparent they plan to put some power behind the promotion.

The company recently began offering so-called embed code that allows fans of popular programs such as the The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to post clips to their MySpace.com pages or blogs. That embed code duplicates one of the more popular features of YouTube: the ability to easily post videos on other Web sites and blogs.

The idea behind the strategy, experts believe, is to find a "workaround" to YouTube. And while Viacom executives say they're not trying to take the Google-owned video-sharing site head on, there's no question that relations between the two companies are chilly. After months of fruitless negotiations, Viacom last week demanded that YouTube remove 100,000 clips that featured the company's television shows or movies.

"YouTube throws down the gauntlet for any television network or content producer to ask, 'Why is it better for people to consume our video on YouTube rather than my site?'" Erik Flannigan, senior vice president of digital media for Comedy Central, said Thursday during an interview with CNET News.com.

"I think it's fair to say Comedycentral.com is a more video-centric site than maybe it has appeared in the past," Flannigan added. "We haven't put videos quite so front and center as they are today."

Viacom's Comedy Central is likely just the start for the embed code, and executives here at the Media Summit entertainment conference said they believe Viacom will likely offer it on other properties, such as the Web sites for Nickelodeon, MTV and Spike TV.

Jon Stewart

That Viacom is essentially encouraging its Web audience to repost its materials is also the latest indication that big media companies are trying to glom onto Internet concepts such as viral marketing and community sharing while still maintaining some control over the shows they create.

InterActiveCorp plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on Internet content, CEO Barry Diller said Wednesday during the Media Summit. He was asked whether he agreed with Viacom's demand that its videos be pulled off YouTube.

"I would have said (to YouTube), 'Let me be clear with you. You are not going to take the stuff that we made in our house and control it for other people," Diller said.

Viacom's tough stand against YouTube, of course, could be self-defeating, because the company's programming receives a considerable amount of free promotion from YouTube posters. YouTube's typically young, tech-savvy and moneyed audience is exactly the type of viewer big media companies want to capture.

The problem is advertising dollars. Some content creators find it galling that other companies are reaping the financial reward of their work and not sharing in that money. That was a contentious point in the YouTube-Viacom discussions.

In fairness, YouTube asks its users to refrain from posting copyrighted material and has promised that it's working on so-called fingerprinting technology that will alert content creators that their copyrighted material has been posted.

But media companies are increasingly skeptical that video-sharing sites will be able anytime soon to create that technology. Earlier this week, the new head of NBC Universal also took a swing at YouTube, saying at a press conference that the Google-owned company was dragging its feet on deploying technology to protect copyrighted material that gets posted to the site.

Nonetheless, some companies have managed to make at least a tenuous peace with YouTube. CBS, Sony BMG and Universal Music Group have all struck partnerships with YouTube that allow the video-sharing site to feature clips from their TV shows, films or music videos.

Those who have spoken in private with Viacom executives say the company understands that YouTube has helped expose their shows to new viewers. But they believe the viral nature of the Internet itself offers alternatives to YouTube.

By allowing people to post their shows on their MySpace pages and blogs, Viacom is convinced it will generate just as much interest in funny snippets from the company's shows as someone posting a clip on YouTube.

"We definitely feel that video on the Web is a huge tool," Flannigan said. "It drives word-of-mouth discussion about a show."

Offering the embed code also allows them to generate advertising revenue, and some of the clips on Comedycentral.com already feature 30-second advertisements.

"They get a chance to upsell their other shows to people," said an executive at an Internet company familiar with Viacom's plans. "They can keep people coming to their own site, which is valuable."

Flannigan wouldn't provide details on whether other Viacom sites would begin offering embed codes.

"I do think you'll see us go further with this with our other shows," he said.