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YouTube, Brutus?

Youtubelogo_1 It doesn’t take much business acumen to know that it’s easier to jump onto a bandwagon than to stop it. Maybe that’s why NBC, which infamously forced YouTube to take down a Saturday Night Live snippet that YouTube had helped make famous, announced a deal today with its erstwhile antagonist.

The press release indicates that NBC will make clips from several of its shows, including “The Office” and SNL, available at an official site within YouTube. As with conventional broadcasting, the idea here is to attract viewers and the advertising dollars that chase them.

YouTube is just the sort of place that major entertainment companies used to avoid (and many still do). It’s a hotbed of bootlegged material, as is virtually any site or network that relies on users to provide the content. But the (apocryphal) Willie Sutton rule remains in effect: the networks (and the studios and the labels) have to go where the audience is, rather than trying to lure viewers to more pristine grounds.

YouTube is the perfect online media partner to promote NBC’s marquee entertainment to their audience and explore new and creative ways to harness the power of viral video in a manner that respects copyrights,” John Miller, a marketing bigwig at NBC Universal, said in the press release. “We applaud YouTube for their continued willingness to work with us to remove any unauthorized NBC content and protect our copyrighted material.”

Logo_guba Warner Bros. made a somewhat similar move, agreeing to sell movies through YouTube competitor Guba.

The deals are exquisitely timed. One year ago today, the Supreme Court handed down its watershed Grokster ruling, deciding that file-sharing firms and other tech companies can be held liable for their users’ copyright infringements if they promote piracy. By making the legal rules a bit more clear, the Supremes prompted several leading file-sharing companies to fold or start negotiating with the entertainment industry to make their networks copyright friendly. Those negotiations, though, have yet to yield any fruit. The only converted network to launch is from iMesh, and it struck deals with the labels a year before the Grokster decision.

Hmm. You might think that if an advertising partnership with YouTube is cool for the entertainment industry, it might work with eDonkey, too. Right?

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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