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Network TV Mixed Feelings About Viral Sites

WSJ reports that in April, a lawyer at NBC Universal fired off a stern letter to a small Web site that specializes in amateur video clips, photos and music. An attached spreadsheet listed about 140 video clips of NBC shows that the lawyer claimed were illegally available on Bolt.com. The Web site quickly removed them.

But even as NBC was playing hardball with Bolt, it was considering using the site and others like it as a marketing partner. NBC has had talks with some of these sites -- the biggest of which is YouTube.com -- about an arrangement in which the network would give the sites sneak peeks of new shows.

NBC's dealings with these sites illustrate the quandary networks face as they struggle to adapt to the Internet age. NBC says it feels it must take a tough line with Web sites that show its programs without permission. At the same time, executives recognize that those pirated Internet clips can generate buzz among younger viewers who think watching shows on TV sets is old-fashioned.

Despite sending several warnings to YouTube for similar infractions, NBC and YouTube are close to finalizing an agreement in which NBC will buy ads on YouTube while the site will post clips of coming NBC shows provided by the network.

Fueled by the proliferation of broadband Internet access, YouTube says consumers watch more than 50 million videos a day -- mostly amateur clips -- on its site. "These viral sites are interesting to us in instances before a show becomes an asset and we are trying to expose it to people," says John Miller, NBC's chief marketing officer. "Once something becomes a hit it's a different story. Our interest here is generating revenue for ourselves."

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