Programming Execs Weigh In on Viacom-YouTube

Top cable-programming executives said they understood Viacom’s legal strategy in suing Google and YouTube for unauthorized use of copyrighted content, but they questioned whether it would have the desired effect of pushing users to seek content at the original copyright-holder’s site.

At a meeting of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society in Los Angeles Thursday, Ted Harbert CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group, quoted a study he’d seen indicating that users like sites like YouTube because they are perceived as “their own.” They will resist going to more overtly corporate sites because that’s where “The Man” tells you what to see.

He added that people who don’t watch his E! Entertainment Television may “snack” on clips from the linear channel on the Web and eventually come to the television channel.

“What would I rather have? Brand extension or 8 billion cease-and-desist letters?” he asked rhetorically, adding, “I’m torn.”

Showtime has used content-sharing sites effectively to promote its on-air content, and the premium network will debut episodes of
The Tudors on the Web, noted Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks.

Everyone’s interested in the intellectual-property issue, he said, adding that no one wants to end up like the music business, with its profits pirated by illegal downloading. But there is a certain inevitability that one’s content will end up on the Web, he said.

Channels have to get away from one-size-fits-all media, said Bonnie Hammer president of USA Network and Sci Fi Channel. Advertisers want to get involved on the Web so perhaps its time to return to totally sponsored content as a model, she suggested.

Blank predicted that one year from now, cable executives won’t even be talking about YouTube because there’s probably something out there right now that executives are totally unaware of that will be the next big thing.

“The reality? Everyone’s got to have more answers,” he added.

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