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YouTube Nation

How YouTube is changing Hollywood -- Viral videos mean a lot more is worth watching

Brooke Brodack can't believe things have gotten to this point. It all started 10 months ago, when the 20-year-old kid posted ''Cell Block Tango,'' a lip-synching video tribute to the Chicago tune, on YouTube.com. ''Tango,'' along with 30 of her other shorts, has now been viewed more than 14 million times, making her a bona fide Internet sensation. Says the gap-toothed Holden, Mass., native: ''I'll go places and people will be like, 'Oh, my God, you're that girl from YouTube.' It's weird.''

Stardom has snuck up just as fast for the website that made her famous. ''We thought people would just trade videos with their friends and family,'' says Julie Supan, senior director of marketing for the video-hosting site. But since its launch in May 2005, YouTube has become a phenomenon so contagious that it's close to curing the world's Bored Teenager Epidemic. Today, more than 100 million videos are viewed on YouTube every 24 hours, and a staggering 19.6 million people visited the site in June. The conclusion is pretty much unavoidable: In an on-demand America, YouTube has become a national TiVo. Everybody's taping for everybody else.

Naturally, Hollywood has taken notice — and changed the way it does business. Here are the three lessons entertainment folk have learned.

Lesson One: When the world tunes in, nothing is ever truly dead.
Doubt it? Then ask the creators of Nobody's Watching. The pilot — about two guys who, ironically enough, are trying to get a sitcom off the ground — fell through the cracks at the old WB. For a year and a half, producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) and the writers tirelessly shopped their sitcom to other networks. ''Our respective agents were saying, 'Please stop making us call people about this; it's embarrassing,''' says Lawrence. As rigor mortis started to set in back in June, someone — Lawrence won't say who — leaked the pilot onto YouTube. As of last week, Watching had been viewed almost half a million times, which would amount to a puny network rating, but was enough for NBC to order more episodes. It's a second act worthy of Lazarus.

Lesson Two: If you work with the Net, you won't get Napstered.
As the music industry wigged over Napster six years ago, TV took notes. Instead of suing the pants off of video-sharing sites and their users — only one lawsuit has been filed against YouTube so far, and that wasn't by a TV network or movie studio — NBC, ABC, and CBS have started to work with the likes of YouTube, MySpace, Google, and iTunes to gin up buzz. It's a no-brainer, because ''you don't put up a billboard in the middle of nowhere, you set the billboard up in the middle of Times Square,'' says Todd Chanko, a TV analyst for Jupiter Research. Take NBC. After some initial skittishness and skirmishes — most famously over the Saturday Night Live skit ''Lazy Sunday,'' which the network insisted that YouTube yank — NBC made a deal with the site this summer that includes exclusive made-for-YouTube content and contests. Similarly, when Fox saw its American Idol footage spreading like wildfire, it pressed the site to remove clips of the hit show (YouTube agreed). Of course, more recently Fox hasn't seemed to have a problem with the website posting promos for season 2 of Bones. The moral: The networks will work with YouTube, as long as they decide what tramps around for free. Says NBC's marketing chief, John Miller, ''Both television and movie companies are working to make sure they have relationships, but can maintain their intellectual property. [YouTube] is a different kind of video experience than television. It's video for people with ADD.''

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