‘Saturday Night Live’ Launches YouTube Channel, But Blocks U.S. Fans

Broadway Video's sketch-comedy YouTube videos are available only outside the U.S. to promote overseas TV syndie deals

Justin Timberlake SNL Guest Star

Broadway Video Entertainment’s “Saturday Night Live” has set up shop on YouTube — its first official channel on the world’s biggest Internet video destination — but the free clips are not available to U.S. users, given the production company’s licensing pact with Yahoo for domestic auds.

The ad-free international “SNL” YouTube channel is aimed at driving viewership of the series on TV: The show airs on television in 170 countries. The channel, at YouTube.com/SaturdayNightLive, is launching with about 2,500 clips from the show’s 38-year history. Another 2,000 will be loaded in the next few weeks, along with about 10 clips from the newest episodes, including this Saturday’s season premiere on NBC hosted by Tina Fey.

In the U.S., the bulk of “SNL” content is available only on Yahoo, which is using some 5,000 segments from the show to anchor its launch this month of original comedies. NBC and Hulu retain online rights to full episodes of “SNL.”

The launch of “SNL” as an official YouTube partner has some irony: In 2005, unauthorized versions of the video for Lonely Island’s “Lazy Sunday” from the show went viral on YouTube, helping the then-fledgling site gain awareness. NBC demanded that YouTube remove the clips, claiming copyright infringement.

The “SNL” YouTube channel is being managed by online-video startup Zefr, which created custom, automated post-rolls at the end of each clip that recommend other “SNL” videos, based on keywords and metadata. More than 70% of YouTube’s traffic comes from outside the U.S., and the “SNL” content is available in all territories excluding the States.

“We’re excited to work with Zefr, whose team and technology will allow us to promote ‘Saturday Night Live’ to a broader international audience,” Broadway Video president Britta von Schoeler said in a statement.

Zefr touts its ability to keep audiences more engaged with a brand’s YouTube channel, through the post-roll recommendations and search-engine optimization techniques that populate related clips in the right rail with other content from the brand. “People in Hollywood have this misperception that premium content doesn’t work on YouTube,” Zefr co-founder Rich Raddon said.

Zefr also has a pact with NASCAR to manage its YouTube channel. The Venice, Calif.-based company, founded in 2009, has 230 employees. Startup has raised $31 million from investors including U.S. Venture Partners, MK Capital, Shasta Ventures, SoftTech VC, First Round Capital, Richmond Park Partners and Machinima CEO Allen DeBevoise.