Viacom Flexes Digital Muscle in Uphill Video Control Battle

Recent moves by Viacom, including plans to boost digital staff and monetize its own Web video, could position the firm as a digital media contender to be reckoned with, rather than a producer of TV shows people watch on YouTube.

Following the formation of an MTV Networks Global Digital Media executive team last month, the Viacom company will give pink slips to approximately 250 U.S. employees. The company will hire about 500 staffers in other areas, including its Web-related operations. As noted in an internal company memo, the majority of the layoffs will be finalized by the end of this week. Viacom’s TV properties include MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central.

Viacom earlier this month took a jab at the seemingly unstoppable YouTube, requesting the firm remove about 100,000 video clips from the video-sharing site. Viacom is also promoting the fact that video available from its own sites can be embedded on users’ blogs and sites, including profile pages on MySpace, a YouTube rival in the online video arena.

In addition to addressing its copyright infringement concerns, Viacom’s removal request and new distribution push indicate the firm hopes to control the advertising served with its videos. Video ads are running within clips on Comedy Central’s Motherload site. Although ads are not currently being served within the company’s video clips shared by users, MTV Networks Spokesperson David Bittler did not rule out that possibility. “It’s definitely a model we’re looking at for other video,” he said.

Once embedded on user sites, the Viacom video clips can be grabbed by visitors to those sites and posted to their own sites. The player also allows users to rate videos, and click to search for other Viacom clips. The embedded clips also have an expiration date.

Views of yesterday’s “The Daily Show” posted today on the Comedy Central Web site rose from over 18,000 to more than 21,000 within a half hour this afternoon, according to the site’s own assessment.

Viacom-owned TV shows, such as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “South Park,” and MTV’s “Laguna Beach” have been among the copyrighted clips helping to drive traffic to YouTube. Indeed, despite the takedown order, several Viacom-owned clips, posted both long before and after the removal request made February 2, still reside on YouTube. A clip from a recent “South Park” episode posted January 1 involving the interactive role-playing game World of Warcraft has been viewed over 56,000 times on YouTube; another snippet of “The Daily Show” posted February 3 has garnered over 6,000 views.

According to a YouTube spokesperson, the site has not seen its traffic dwindle since the Viacom video removal began, and the company does break out such traffic numbers.

“We’re taking them at their word that they’re [removing the Viacom videos] as quickly as they can,” Viacom VP Corporate Communications Jeremy Zweig told ClickZ News, adding the two companies had not set an official deadline for complete extraction. According to Zweig, Viacom has made similar requests of YouTube in the past involving deletion of “several thousand” videos. This time, he said, Viacom sent YouTube 100,000 separate removal notices.

MTV Networks has also experimented with video distribution through a deal with none other than Google, YouTube’s owner. The companies in August agreed to use Google’s video distribution technology and affiliate network model to test an ad-supported video network offering.

Viacom’s recent moves may imply the firm is serious about monetizing and maintaining more control over its online content. However, if a sponsored listing for TV show download site EliteTVDownloads appearing on a video search page linked from a user-embedded clip of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” is any indication, the company is fighting an uphill battle.

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