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Late night online at NBC

Conan_obrien It's not "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," but it's a start: NBC announced Monday that is making it full episodes of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" available online the morning after they air, starting Aug 28th.  It's the first time any late-night TV has made it onto the Net, which seems odd -- you'd think that anything on the air after 11 p.m. would be a prime candidate for the Web's time-shifting magic. Vivi Zigler, EVP of NBC Digital Entertainment, explained in an interview that the problem was the cost of obtaining online distribution rights -- for the music on the shows, not the stars or the guests on the couch. Whaddya know -- yet another Internet deficiency to blame on music copyrights!

In the case of Conan's show, Zigler said there's the rights not only to the songs performed by the musical guests and the house band, but also to the brief snippets of music played going into and coming out of commercial breaks. These "bumpers" may last only a few seconds, but the rights still have to be cleared. NBC considered putting Conan's show online without the musical segments, Zigler said, and that would have sped the process considerably. But the network ultimately decided to stick with the complete show, which makes sense, given that the musical guests are a highlight of the show (e.g., the Arctic Monkeys on July 2 and Art Brut on July 11).

As part of the same announcement, NBC said it planned more social-networking features for its site, and that it would create more online-only programming. IMHO, the most interesting of the latter offerings is one the network unveiled in May: a blend of user-generated and network-originated content dubbed "The Office 360." Fans of "The Office" will be invited to take virtual jobs in fake branches of Dunder Mifflin, interact with other fans in those branches, and perform tasks assigned by corporate headquarters. The entertainment value of the venture will depend on the talent and imagination not just of the "digital guru" NBC hired to shepherd the Office 360 project, but also the viewers who join in. Judging from the snippets created by fans during a contest last year, you can count on the viewers to hold up their end.

The image of Conan O'Brien is courtesy of NBC Universal. See the original here.

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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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