Update: If you’re looking for more information on the Canadians who pranked Sarah Palin by pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy, our post is here.
NBC.com celebrated 25 million unique visits in September, serving almost 29 million short-form video streams. Among the biggest draws to the site were Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin skits, which got more than half of their views on the web. But there is another story here that hasn’t been told yet, a story about a bored Canadian teenager, a rainy day, and an experiment that questions the wisdom of shunning YouTube.
NBC has a long history of sending takedown requests to YouTube, fighting to make Saturday Night Live clips like Dick in a Box or Natalie Portman’s Gangsta Rap disappear from the site. The network apparently also flexed its muscles in the case of the Palin skit, and YouTube complied by adding the clip to its filters. These seem to work fairly well now, and initially only clips from other news programs showing excerpts of the SNL video were available on the site.
Then something odd happened: A video that promised the full version of the sketch shot up YouTube’s charts, getting over 300,000 views in 24 hours — even though all it showed, for some six-plus minutes, was a screengrab of Palin/Fey without any audio whatsoever.
The clip with the somewhat misleading title SNL Katie Couric Interviews Sarah Palin FULL VERSION with Tina Fey has been watched more than 1.1 million times by now. It hasn’t gotten caught in YouTube’s filters because it doesn’t contain any actual footage of the skit. Instead, it’s just that single, silent screengrab — but with a twist: The uploader annotated the clip with some text, explaining why it isn’t possible to find the actual video on YouTube. A link in the video’s description points to NBC’s web site, through which an untold amount of people undoubtedly went to watch the Palin clip.
So who uploaded this video? Was it NBC? Or someone from the Saturday Night Live crew? Actually, it was just a teenage girl from Canada that likes to “hang out on the Internet” and “try to put illegal videos on YouTube,” as she told me in an email. Video Beaker, as she calls herself on YouTube, was “pretty bored” the day the SNL skit aired, and so she decided to upload it. “I wanted to post the SNL skit since I figured people would want it. Every YouTube user is looking for that big hit that will garner them subscribers and ratings,” she told me. She tried to submit it in multiple different file formats and with different tags and titles, but was always blocked. “I’m a pretty stubborn person, but after 12 tries, I just gave up.”
She’s been surprised by the success of her “video,” she told me, and encouraged by all the positive feedback. The clip now features more than a thousand comments. Many of them condemn YouTube’s filtering and NBC’s unwillingness to share its content more freely, but others also just comment on the actual sketch itself. “Since they don’t want the hassle of signing up a new account on NBC just to post a comment there, they just posted their thoughts on my video,” explained Video Beaker.
So how does she feel about NBC shunning YouTube? “I personally think its pure bull,” she wrote me, adding: “If they want to bring attention to their show, SNL, why not allow their funniest skits to be easily accessible?
“The first place people go to look for that clip everyone is talking about is YouTube,” she wrote. “If it’s not there, most people don’t bother looking anywhere else….I really don’t get NBC’s logic.”