Scott Boyarsky, Director of Program Management at the Walt Disney Internet Group called me to chat about an extraordinary website called newsclipper.org. It’s extraordinary for a bunch of reasons (which I shall explain) but the most interesting part of our conversation centered around a simple, unavoidable truth: newsclipper.org does exactly what you or I might do with publicly available content – they just do it so well, you wonder if it’s legal.
In my book, Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV, I spend a good deal of time discussing the probable futures of “networked” television. In a networked environment, the content publisher is supposed to benefit from a one-to-one relationship with the content consumer. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.
The promises of networked media distribution are numerous and they span a continuum from practical to hallucinogenic. There is the promise of instant transactions, the promise of better, census-based metrics, the promise of programming customization, the promise of contextual relevance, etc., etc., etc.
One of the best understood techniques for distributing one-to-one media experiences is RSS (Really Simple Syndication). This is the methodology used by bloggers, podcasters and, more recently, video distributors to enable their content to be embedded in, or linked to, other peoples websites. You can think of RSS as the ability to syndicate web content.
Now, in the book, I talk about the way RSS might be used to distribute and channelize video to create a custom viewing environment. It could be recommendations from friends, playlists from colleagues, feeds from selected sources or a collection of clips assembled by a professional program director.
When you get a minute (like the moment you’re done reading this) go to: http://newsclipper.org
What you will find there is simply fantastic. You choose a subject such as politics, entertainment, business, health or sports. Or, you can choose a network like CNN, ABC, ESPN, CBS or FOX. What you get are pristine video clips served from their respective content owners. You can also choose special interest feeds like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton or simply select to view the most recently posted or the most viewed clips.
Why is this video aggregation site different from all other video aggregation sites?
Well, first of all, it’s not a video aggregation site. It’s just a bunch of feeds that are arranged for you in exceptionally easy to understand groups. When you select ESPN, for example, you get a list of recent clips from ESPN.com. You can add them to your personal playlist or just view them by clicking. Choose “Election 2008” from the “Specials” pulldown menu and you’ll be treated to a list of election-oriented clips from all of the major news organizations that newsclipper.org channelizes. Newsclipper.org doesn’t store the video, nor do they ask for (or need to ask for) anyone’s permission to do this. For all practical purposes, it’s just a linking site.
There is one little issue though — there’s no advertising on any of the videos. None on the site, nope, nada, nothing, zippo, zilch!
How come? Well, newsclipper.org is simply looking at RSS feeds from major content publishers and pointing you to their content. They strip out any of the code that points to advertising and simply bring you the programming. The only way to prevent this would be for content publishers to “bake” commercial messaging into their videos. But that would not let them properly traffic advertising on their own sites. And, it would also allow content to expire, which is not a good idea. Nobody needs to see a commercial for a Columbus Day sale on October 31st?
Unlike QuickSilverScreen.com and other linking sites that feature pirated content, newsclipper.org points you to publicly available feeds featuring video hosted and served from the legal rightsholder’s servers. The site is remarkable in that it fulfills its marketing promise perfectly. “Come to newsclipper.org and get video clips from major news sources in a clean, easy to use online environment.”
Here’s the scary part. If you take the playlist you create on newsclipper.org and add your own advertising via RSS and put the whole shebang on your own website or blog, you will (in effect) become a customized, targeted video site with network quality news clips, selling your own advertising with no way for anyone to know that what you are doing is illegal. The content publisher will know, but only if they see your site. Consumers won’t have any idea that the advertising they are seeing is not the advertising that they were intended to see.
This gets complicated and messy. By itself, newsclipper.org is a harmless tour de force in programming prowess and organization skill. However, out of context or in the hands of an untoward individual, the site enables a bit of hijinks or, at worst, something approaching grand larceny.
Absurdly, all of the content publishers who are featured on newsclipper.org gleefully feed their video content via RSS. By definition, anyone can read the feed and see the videos. Of course, the idea was for consumers to see the whole feed with advertising intact. Oops!