Media giant Viacom Inc. is suing YouTube Inc., but it’s also taking lessons from the online video service.
In the ongoing quest to make Internet popularity pay, Viacom’s Comedy Central channel today will unveil a website for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” that’s designed to satisfy the most avid fans of the mock-news show with oceans of free video clips.
Rather than providing just a sampling of the program’s fare, as Viacom and other TV networks have done for years, Comedy Central is offering the works: about 13,000 video clips representing every minute of the show since its 1999 inception.
The site (www.thedailyshow.com) is meant to pull in advertising money from Day One, but it also will be something of a test lab for Viacom and perhaps for rivals looking over its shoulder.
Entertainment companies know in their bones that their material has great value to Web surfers, but so far nobody has found the right formula of unobtrusive yet effective ads.
“Comedy Central is doing what a lot of others are planning,” said Allen Weiner, an analyst for research firm Gartner Inc. “They’re much further along in what I would call monetization.”
The database is searchable by both date and topic, making it a potential bonanza for students of American pop culture. If you want to see what host Jon Stewart has had to say about former First Lady Barbara Bush or ill-fated Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, you can find the clips and put them in context by seeing what else was featured on the same day.
Today’s launch is a competitive response to YouTube. Google Inc.'s hit video-sharing site stirred Viacom’s ire -- and a $1-billion copyright-infringement suit -- by allegedly allowing users to post clips of “The Daily Show,” “South Park,” “The Colbert Report” and other popular Viacom shows without permission or compensation.
YouTube has long said it removes such proprietary clips when owners demand it, but this week the company took a more conciliatory stance. It announced a program under which copyright holders can provide YouTube with advance copies of their programming for identification purposes. Using new software, YouTube said, it can then automatically remove clips as users post them.
Although YouTube is a foe in the legal battle, it was a catalyst for the launch of the new Viacom site. Paul Beddoe-Stephens, vice president for digital media at Comedy Central, said he had been dreaming about such a project since “The Daily Show” started.
But without YouTube, he said, Viacom might not have recognized the true value of the archives and dragged its feet in digitally archiving and “tagging” the clips with topic and date references.
That job fell to a team of 16 Comedy Central writers and video encoders who have worked two shifts a day on the project since June to make today’s deadline. Beddoe-Stephens said it was important to do the work in-house so that the tags would be consistent and the brief descriptors accompanying the clips would be written in a style reflecting the show’s irreverent attitude.
Going forward, however, Comedy Central plans to tap into the collective intelligence of its fans by allowing them to contribute to the process, a la Wikipedia, the user-created Internet encyclopedia.
A particular challenge for Comedy Central was designing ads for the site that would satisfy advertisers without turning off viewers, said Erik Flannigan, executive vice president for digital media at MTV Networks, the Viacom unit that includes Comedy Central.
Designers have been experimenting with ads that appear for two or three seconds at the start of a clip, recede, then emerge briefly from a corner of the picture like a network-TV promo while the video continues playing.
“Nobody wins when you have a 30-second ad in front of a 45-second piece of video,” Flannigan said.
Another approach is allowing advertisers to sponsor sections of the home page, such as the “Wayback” function -- named in homage to the old “Mr. Peabody” cartoons -- in which calendar dates spin like fruit on a slot machine, stopping on a random clip from the archive.
Like other search sites, including those from Google and Yahoo Inc., “The Daily Show” will allow sponsors to peg ads to particular topics on its website and feed potentially valuable information about consumer tastes back to the company.
Comedy Central’s hope is that users will start by looking for a particular date or topic and then find themselves, an hour and numerous ad-exposures later, still chuckling over videos.