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Spreading those Jon Stewart moments

Comedy_central_logo The TV network most affected by YouTube may be Viacom's Comedy Central, home of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "The Colbert Report" and "South Park." The site has become something of a memory bank for the three shows, with users posting clips of virtually every celebrated segment. For instance, there's Stewart's deadpan take-down of Sen. Ted Stevens' stance on Net neutrality rules, a bit that immortalized the phrase, "It's a series of tubes."
After tacitly approving the YouTube posts, Viacom caused a stir last month when it demanded that the site remove a bunch of its clips. Within days, though, much of the same material returned, and Viacom executives signalled that they were negotiating a licensing deal with YouTube for the media company's content.
It makes a lot more sense for Viacom to try to monetize the clips on YouTube than to stop them from appearing there. It also makes sense for Viacom to find other outlets that cut YouTube out of the deal, which is what Comedy Central plans to start doing soon. The network's Web site has been providing numerous clips from its broadcasts, but the videos cannot be moved easily off the site. As of next Monday (Nov. 20), the site will switch to a format that enables users to post copies of those clips on their blogs, their MySpace pages and any other Web site they control. The clips will have embedded advertisements, helping Comedy Central make money even after the clips (and their viewers) leave its site.
Kudos to the company for trying to harness the Web's power to distribute media by sacrificing control over where the clips wind up. It's a leap that some content companies have been unwilling to make, for fear that their works will wind up in unsavory corners of the Web (or savory places that their advertisers would rather not be associated with). Michele Ganeless, the network's executive vice president and general manager, said the company doesn't know what to expect from the move. "This is such uncharted territory for everyone," she said in an interview. But her hunch is that the effort will boost the network's popularity, just as the growing traffic at comedycentral.com and the sale of downloadable shows at the iTunes Store have done. It's refreshing to see a network roll the dice on a new way to reach viewers, rather than waiting for someone else to demonstrate all the things that could go wrong.

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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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