NBC’s flawed unbundled strategy

As it did with “Lazy Sunday,” NBC demanded that youTube.com pull a Natalie Portman rap skit from its site this week. The network is offering these items via its own Website, thank you very much, and doesn’t need or want anybody else to do it for them. They’ve created the same viral “sharing” tools as youTube, so in their minds, nobody should complain.

Or not.

Here are what I view as remarkable quotes from an NBC executive involved in this, as presented in today’s Media Daily News.

Stephen Andrade, NBC’s vice president of interactive development, said that NBC supports video sharing and hopes to facilitate it, but wants the chain to start at NBC.com.

“We were concerned about building their corporation instead of ours, since it’s our video,” he said. “We would like to make it as easy for people to share as we can, so we’re trying to provide as many tools as we can to do that.”

The new video-sharing functionality is only one aspect of NBC’s strategy to turn NBC.com into a thriving site with features such as message boards, blogs, and video sharing that create a community–a sort of MySpace around the NBC brand.

…“We have a lot of good, interesting content on NBC.com,” Andrade said. “And people don’t know it exists. They think we’re just this old media brand.”

So they’re concerned about building youTube’s corporation instead of their own. This is an amazing statement to me, because beneath it is an assumption that’s simply untrue. That is that there is no benefit to NBC in running their content unbundled from NBC infrastructure. This reaction is typical (and believe me, I know) of media companies who are stuck in Media 1.0 distribution paradigms, but it is self-destructive.

First of all, media companies don’t determine who or what’s cool in the 2.0 space (in truth, media companies don’t determine anything in this world), because everything about it is self-selecting by users. NBC thinks its material is so compelling that it can force users to its Website, but that is a dangerously foolish assumption. The eyeballs at youTube are, in many ways, determining what other eyeballs will see, and NBC is competing for those eyeballs using a narrow, Media 1.0 formula.

Secondly, and this is critically important to understand, go back and read what the article says about the NBC brand. They’re trying to build a sort of MySpace around the NBC brand, but they acknowledge that “people” think they’re “just this old media brand.” Well, yeah. And why is that? Because the network IS an old media brand. Just because you drag it to the internet and wave a flag saying “we’re different” doesn’t make it so in the minds of those “people.” When will media companies realize that there’s negative baggage in trying to move their brand to the web?

Finally, by adopting this strategy, the network is shutting their minds to profitability in the Media 2.0 space. If you’re going to force everybody to do things your way, you’ll never be open to doing things anybody else’s way. This stifles creativity at a time when creativity is what this particular network needs more than ever.

Let me repeat what I said when NBC pulled “Lazy Sunday” from youTube. The right response is to provide a high quality version with short marketing attached for playback anywhere. If you want to build your own unbundled playback system, that’s fine. In fact, I recommend it. If you want to build your own community, that’s fine too. The strategic flaw, however, is trying to attach your brand to it. MySpace, after all, isn’t “Fox’s MySpace,” now is it?


  1. Sadly, media companie determine far too much in this world…what you watch on TV, for instance, what you see on the news, what you read in books, etc. Thankfully that’s starting to break down. But leaving that aside, I’m not sure I follow how NBC is supposed to make money by letting YouTube run their content (which I’m fine with, by the way). How are they shutting their minds to profitability in this instance when there seems to be no way for them to make money on YouTube?

  2. They make money by attaching a 10-second commercial to the video.

  3. And if they are giving the video away, how can they track how often that commercial is seen to determine ad rates? And would YouTube even run it if they did?

  4. @Vidiot- the tech exists, and is simple, to implement ad-start tracking.

  5. So thinking this through from an advertiser perspective, you’d need a way to track video posted on other sites that will let you figure out how many people of what age, income, etc. have watched a video, and you’d need to make sure that that method is tamper proof as you send it around to other sites, and you’d need to be able to predict in some way how many views you’d be getting over what period of time to be able to sell it in advance. I’m somewhat dubious this tech exists but willing to be convinced. I very much doubt you’d be able to sell advertisers on this model even if such tracking did exist, but one hurdle at a time…

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