New fall ritual: Saturday Night Live does a Sarah Palin sketch starring Tina Fey, and it’s the talk of the Web for the next few days.
We’ve seen this movie before, of course. In the past, the clip would air on NBC, but its Web audience would watch almost exclusively on YouTube. Back in December 2005, it was hard to feel sympathetic for NBC execs who complained about “Lazy Sunday” running on Google’s video site instead of theirs, since NBC’s site didn’t have the clip at all.
But now, nearly three years later:
- NBC.com is pretty good: Decent player, reasonably easy to find what you need, and many clips are embeddable. Viewers get what they want; NBC gets to earn a few extra pennies from showing them an extra ad.
- Hulu is very good: Good player, easy to find what you want, and all clips are embeddable. Viewers get what they want, and NBC, along with Fox and Providence Equity Partners, who own the site, gets a few extra pennies.
- At least as important: You can’t find the clips on YouTube. As of late Monday afternoon, YouTube offered plenty of clips of Tina Fey’s first turn as Palin, which ran three weeks ago. But if you wanted to see this weekend’s sketch you were out of luck: You could only find small snippets, or stories about the sketch, or spam masquerading as the sketch. We don’t know if that’s because NBC is spending a lot of time sending takedown notices to YouTube, or if YouTube is being extra vigilant about filtering. But it’s certainly not a coincidence.
Result: As of Monday afternoon, NBC.com said it had generated 1.7 million views of the clip. Hulu doesn’t release numbers, but since the site generates more traffic than NBC.com, we’ll assume it did at least a couple hundred thousand, since it is one of its most popular clips.. Meanwhile, there’s still a huge audience on YouTube that is clamoring to see the clip: according to video tracker TubeMogul, about 1.7 million people have viewed things that pretended to be the sketch by Monday afternoon.
One popular school of Internet thought holds that NBC execs still don’t get it: If they’d only let Google distribute their stuff, they’ll ultimately get it in front of many more people. And that means either more video views, or, even better, more TV eyeballs. But we derive a different lesson. NBC is never going to match Google eyeball for eyeball. But it’s proving that when it comes to its premium content — stuff you can sell ads around — it can do just fine on its own. And it can keep whatever ad revenue it generates.
For now, the pennies it makes from NBC clips on the Web are meaningless. And ultimately, it wouldn’t be surprising to see NBC allowing its stuff back on YouTube. But now that it’s proven that it can distribute its video on the Web quite effectively, it’s going to have a lot more bargaining power when it does start negotiating with YouTube again.
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