CBS: Caught between a rock and… another rock

Unless you’ve been in a coma or backpacking through Mongolia recently, you’ve probably already seen the clip from Late Night with David Letterman, in which the host of said show laces into Senator John McCain — not just once, but over and over — for skipping out on an appearance on the program. The presidential candidate said that he had to fly back to Washington because of the banking crisis, but instead showed up on TV doing an interview with Katie Couric. It was classic Letterman, and it was clear that the talk-show host wasn’t just having a laugh — McCain’s behaviour in suspending his campaign seemed to really irk Dave.

That clip has been watched more than 3 million times on YouTube, which is a big plus for the network. Except that the video that’s getting all of the views wasn’t uploaded by CBS — or was it? As Michael Learmonth describes in a piece for Advertising Age, the clip was uploaded by a user named 1970oaktree, and doesn’t have any CBS pre-roll advertising or anything like that. It also wasn’t uploaded to the official CBS channel. But 1970oaktree has only been a member of YouTube for about a week, and the Letterman video is the only thing he or she has ever uploaded.

So why doesn’t CBS just take the video down? According to Learmonth, there are reports that the uploader is actually a CBS staffer. Is this the equivalent of a band leaking their own album on the Bit Torrent peer-to-peer network? Who knows. In any case, it seems the network has decided it’s better to have people watching the clip than not watching it, and that the publicity generated by it is worth it, regardless of the technicalities of copyright infringement. By now I would hope that CBS has figured out that when people want to watch video, they don’t suddenly think to themselves “Oh, that’s a CBS show; I guess I should go to the CBS website.”

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