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Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 7/9/2008 9:07:28 AM ET 2008-07-09T13:07:28

You ever watch that A&E show, “Intervention”? It’s cool if you don’t. It’s fairly unpleasant, even by reality show standards, and every episode is pretty much the same. Angry and concerned family and friends confront an addict, who in turn blames the family and friends for his or her inability to rehab and/or score.

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You’ll never see “Intervention” open with a scene in which the confronted responds, “Things aren’t working out for me, so please stop exploiting this tragedy and take the cameras away so that I may look inside and figure how changing myself will change this situation. Peace out.”

Sure, “Intervention” illustrates the extreme, but taking responsibility when the winds of fate turn against us isn’t human nature. Turns out, it’s not corporate nature either. Witness the latest episode of “ Viacom vs. the Internet,” a long-running reality show in which a media behemoth holds fast to its antiquated business ideals while taking advantage of our increasingly tenuous hold on personal privacy, and accepting none of the responsibility for the resulting fallout.

In review, last week a judge ordered YouTube to hand over records of every video you and everyone else ever watched on the video-sharing site, plus when you watched it and how many times. This is the latest in Viacom’s copyright battle with Google (of which YouTube is a subsidiary). Viacom wants to prove that the majority of us aren’t watching dramatic gopher remixes for kicks, but instead stealing peeks at blurry clips of Viacom properties such as “The Daily Show” and “Colbert,” helping YouTube get Internet rich on stolen content.

“But wait!” you say. “Didn’t we learn from that recent 'South Park’ episode, featuring all our most favorite-est Internet memes such as Chris ‘Leave Britney Alone’ Crocker, ‘Chocolate Rain’ Guy, ‘Tron’ Guy, Light Saber Kid, Sneezing Panda, Laughing Baby and of course, Dramatic-Looking Gopher, that while the "Internet is new and exciting for creative people, it hasn’t matured as a distribution mechanism to blah blah blah.”

“But then,” you say, “if there isn’t yet a viable business model for making money off the Internet, and that’s what media conglomerates such as Viacom told writers during that writer’s strike that’s forcing me to wait a really long time for the ‘Chuck’ cliffhanger resolve, then how can YouTube owe Viacom over $1 billion in damages, as the company’s court case intends?”

“And also,” you ask, “isn’t ‘South Park’ a Viacom property?” Then, you continue, “Can’t everyone watch every episode on the ‘South Park’ Web site totally for free?”

I know, right?

But before your head explodes trying to wrap your brain around such media paradoxes, there’s also that privacy thing everyone’s freaking out about, many expressing their consternation via angry videos posted on YouTube basically telling Viacom to “get bent,” only less politely.

Viacom responded to the outrage and hoopla with a statement assuring that it doesn’t want your personal information, and has no intention of suing everyone who, you know, watched that notorious Britney Spears video from Viacom’s MTV Music Awards before it was yanked off YouTube. Whatever. It’s just one more ski on the slippery slope of our eroding privacy rights.

Meanwhile, Viacom continues to miss the big picture, which is, essentially, nobody goes to YouTube to catch an entire episode of “The Daily Show.” In fact, if they’re searching for “Daily Show” content at all, it’s to rewatch the funny thing Jon Stewart said the night before, when they originally watched it on their cable television — or to show the funny thing Jon Stewart said to their co-workers who may not have the cable television, but now that they’ve seen the funny thing Jon Stewart said, they’re considering spending their tax rebate on the cable television, which is good for Viacom and good for the country. 

There isn’t a comedy enthusiast in this dimension who’s rubbing his or her hands together as they cleverly plan never ever to spend money on cable television because they’d much rather watch a tiny, low definition “Daily Show” clip. There’s a reason nobody ever puts YouTube on full screen.

Granted, there is no doubt a whole heck of a lot of people out there who never have any intention of watching the MTV Music Awards, thanks to the Internet. If something awesome happens, like Britney Spears performing while “fat,” well, they can catch it on YouTube the next day at work. But whose fault is that?

If the majority of Nielsen families choose not to spend three hours watching your crap award show (commercials and all)  just to catch the two minutes of funny they can now see anytime on the Internet, the answer isn’t “I know! Let’s sue YouTube!” It’s “Time to up the bar on what you’re broadcasting.”

Perhaps Viacom is upset because YouTube highlights the few good programs, or program segments, for which Viacom is responsible. “Few” being the key word. Tried watching Viacom’s VH-1 lately? Pretty much, every single program is an assemblage of people no one’s ever heard of reacting to things that happened in the ’80s with such incisive pop culture insights as, “Oh my gawd! I remember when that happened!”

Your friends are funnier. And even if they aren’t, at least they’re your friends. Then you’ve got that whole social interaction thing that’s supposed to release endorphins and whatnot. If such “Hey, remember when that one thing happened?” programs are intended to recreate a YouTube–with-your-friends vibe, VH-1 would be better served showing “(Blank) in a Box” from “Saturday Night Live” on 24/7 loop.

Perhaps other media entities, YouTube, BitTorrent and the like, could get together with Viacom for a bit of intervention on their own. This way, they could let Viacom know that they want to help Viacom, not hurt, that they’re only doing what they do because they care about Viacom’s content. Not all of Viacom’s content mind you, but the good stuff is there, and they can help Viacom bring it out.

In doing so, they can remind Viacom of the benefits reaped once “(Blank) in a Box” became red hot on YouTube (before it was yanked). People were clued in to the fact that “SNL” was funny again, Justin Timberlake was more than just a boy band refugee, and Andy Samberg got to make “Hot Rod,” which Netiquette paid five bucks to see on a JetBlue flight from New York to Seattle. Everybody wins.

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