Majors embrace technology that previously sparked lawsuits

Fox and NBCUniversal are experimenting with a social-media technology that they sued out of existence two years ago.

Fox and NBCU’s Bravo are allowing viewers to share video clips across social networks like Facebook and Twitter by utilizing software developed by a third-party company known as SnappyTV.

If clip-sharing sounds familiar, it’s because a company called RedLasso did same in 2008, only to be sued on copyright-infringement grounds.

The service was a brief sensation in the blogosphere, reaching 24 million unique visitors by allowing websites to excerpt unlicensed footage from the feeds of more than 200 national and local channels. At the time the company defended the service’s right to use the material under the fair-use doctrine.

SnappyTV is taking a more measured approach. Its network clients can set the parameters for how many times footage can be captured for viewing, as well as the length of the clips. But fans can link via tweet or status update to a watercooler moment of their choosing just as soon as it airs.

SnappyTV fills a missing link — literally and figuratively — in the social-media conversation around TV shows by enabling viewers to couple their micro-commentary with video relevant to what they just watched live. Networks hope that by clearing the appropriate video they will create a viral tool for encouraging real-time tune-in to the programming that generates advertising dollars, not to mention possibly turning the clips themselves into ad opportunities.

Fox has used SnappyTV in recent months to help promote shows including “Family Guy,” “Bones” and last week’s premiere of the Howie Mandel special “Mobbed,” which has since been ordered to series.

Bravo used SnappyTV to promote the finale of “Top Chef.” Ellen Stone, Bravo’s senior VP marketing, plans to try it with other shows and promote it on air.

“When we found out about SnappyTV, we thought it was a huge bullseye for us to make fans self-promoters for the shows,” she said.

In the case of “Top Chef,” five to six clips were made available that were no longer than 20 seconds.

“We’re finding that there’s a massive engagement that’s happening in real time around content,” said Mike Foldner, CEO of SnappyTV. “The networks understand that and are trying to take advantage of that.”

Al McGowan, CEO of RedLasso, said he attempted to collaborate with broadcasters but was ultimately undone by a dichotomy often found at media companies in the era of YouTube: The marketing department embraced RedLasso at the same time their colleagues in the legal department were putting him out of business.

“The best way to characterize it is the ones who saw the future were cheering us on,” he said. “Those who were nervous about the future decided to sue us.”

But sources at the networks say RedLasso moved too aggressively for its own good. The firm went so far as to hire former CBS topper Michael Jordan to help fend off the Fox/NBCU lawsuit, to no avail.

That wasn’t the end of RedLasso, however. Oddly enough, the company resurfaced a year later and struck a deal with Fox Television Stations for clip-sharing of strictly licensed local content. The company was sold last year and plans to sign up more clients, according to McGowan.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more