When I talked to my sister yesterday, she said she had been thinking of me when she saw a report on “NBC Nightly News” about the video-sharing service, YouTube.
“I thought that story might interest you, because of what you write about,” she said. OK, true enough, and I had heard about the recent promotional deal between NBC Universal and YouTube. But YouTube had reached similar promotional deals with MTV2 and E! Television, but my sister hadn’t noticed then.
What was different now? NBC Universal has a very large platform to promote YouTube, including on its very popular nightly news show. I went to the Nightly News video vault and watched the report on YouTube (of course with the Internet Explorer browser only).
Anchor Brian Williams looks into the camera and opens the segment like this: “If you ever find yourself with a computer and an hour to kill, have we got a website for you.” In the background are the words “Must See TV,” a play on NBC’s past slogan. Is this an infomercial? What’s going on here?
The segment itself is relatively fair, and discusses NBC Universal’s fear and loathing of YouTube for running copyrighted content in the past. And YouTube itself is a phenomenon worthy of a segment on “The Nightly News.” But the timing of the segment with the NBC promotional deal with YouTube — along with the smarmy intro wording and graphics — smacks of marketing’s encroachment into the news.
And I’m not the only one who noticed the poor timing of the piece. Broadcasting & Cable magazine’s blog also took a shot at what it called Tube Touting:
NBC didn’t take long to start hawking YouTube.com, the broadcast-yourself video clip site with which it has just struck a cross-promotion agreement. My problem is that the plug was in a NBC Nightly News story, albeit the last one in Wednesday night’s broadcast. And it isn’t even sweeps.
I’m not sure NBC’s disclaimer that it was teaming with the site justified what appeared to be a promotion for it masquerading as a news story, albeit an interesting one. And I’m not sure it was a sufficient explanation since it did not point out that the deal was to give each other plugs, YouTube on the site, NBC on air.
A good point. Putting the story on “The Nightly News” was akin to going to YouTube and seeing every video highlighted on its home page from an NBC show. Instead, YouTube has a tasteful text link on its home page to the NBC promotional contest for “The Office.”
Other than that crass start to the cross-promotional deal, NBC should be given credit for making the deal, a change from its past behavior of trying to bottle up viral video from its network. Steve Hall at AdRants had the perfect headline: “NBC Gets Less Stupid, Partners With YouTube.”
Perhaps this marks a turning point for Big Media companies who have been trying to stomp out the spread of their video content online. Working with — instead of against — grassroots sites like YouTube is in the spirit of openness and community on the Internet. And with the massive audience of video watchers and shooters on YouTube, it’s a community they will fight at their peril.
Other coverage of the NBC/YouTube deal:
NBC Taps Popularity Of Online Video Site (Washington Post)
NBC strikes deal with YouTube (News.com)
NBC-YouTube Deal Blurs Lines Between Promotion and Content, Analyst Says (PodTech podcast)
NBC Promoting Shows on YouTube (Gizmodo blog)
NBC and YouTube to Make Buddy Comedy (Idea Grove blog)
What do you think? Did NBC do the right thing by partnering with YouTube? How will the YouTube community react to the deal? Should “The Nightly News” have run its piece on YouTube? Share your comments below.
UPDATE: NBC News spokeswoman Barbara Levin reacted to my blog post about the possible conflict of interest. “‘NBC Nightly News’ regularly reports cultural trend stories regardless of whose property it is (for example: DaVinci code/Sony; World Cup/ABC-ESPN; Polygamy-Big Love/HBO),” she said via email. “The ‘Nightly’ piece was in the works well before the NBC announcement was made.”
That might well be true, but it’s the appearance of conflict and the timing of the piece that smacks of a commercial tie-in built into editorial. If NBC had bought YouTube, it would be a business story. But NBC made a cross-promotional deal with YouTube — specifically for on-air promotion — so it’s weird to have such a promotional story that runs on the evening news.