Tuned In

The Onion vs. Viacom: The Huddled Masses Are Yearning to Watch Free

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Attention, Viacom executives: See that TV-looking thing above this post? It’s called “embedded video.” It’s what you get when you don’t lock up your content like Rapunzel in a tower, and when you let people who actually like your shows share them with other people. These people are called “fans.” The sharing is called “free publicity.” There’s a theory that these things are good for media companies.

Anyway, the product that’s garnering the free publicity in this instance is a promo clip for the Onion News Network, an online newscast from the Web’s premiere parodists of AP news style. Now they’re moving into video at perhaps the perfect time, now that Viacom has yanked The Daily Show and The Colbert Report from YouTube and created an opening in the viral fake-news market. (Cough! Morons! Cough!) The fake newscast, which the Onion is allowing fans to share freely, is subsidized by embedded ads. [Update: I should mention, as Jane notes in the comments, that Viacom’s Comedy Central does let people embed the clips it hosts at its own site, though the traffic appears to be far smaller than what the clips were getting at YouTube.]

Or is it fake news? Not according to Onion president Sean Mills, who tells Variety that

“[Daily Show and Colbert] are parody shows, and this is serious news,” he said. “There’s no studio audience, and no one’s in on the joke. What we are trying to create is a broadcast-quality newscast on the Internet.”

I’m pretty sure that at least that part’s a joke. Fake or real, I’m looking forward to more. The clip above is a Lou-Dobbs-style report on immigration, showing the “human cost of Mexicans” by profiling a CEO who lost his job to a guy who crossed the border on a melon truck. (The piece does a nice job of lampooning two sides of the debate, mimicking anti-immigration hysteria while also underscoring that, after all, it’s not generally CEOs who have the most to fear from low-skilled migrants.) The beauty notes are the Onion’s typically pitch-perfect presentation of “facts,” such as a reference to Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus, which welcomes immigrants on the Statue of Liberty: “But those words were written thousands of years ago…” The joke is neither tired nor poor.