Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Why You Can’t See SNL’s Great “Game of Thrones” Sketch on

The great thing about Saturday Night Live and the Internet is that you don’t have to watch Saturday Night Live anymore. Because of the Internet.

Do whatever you want on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, you can see all of the show online, legally, for free. Your cyber-pals will have already told you which clips you should seek out, and NBC has gotten so good at this that it now hires a “social media marketing” firm to seed the Internet with embeddable highlights.

Easy. Except when it’s not. Periodically, NBC ends up in a position where it can’t use the Internet to distribute its TV show, because someone complained about a copyright issue after the show aired.

And that’s apparently what happened this weekend to this excellent “Game of Thrones” parody, which you can see on Gawker but not NBC or Hulu.  (The clip stays up on Gawker, apparently, because either no one complained or because Gawker hasn’t listened to their complaints; I’ve asked Nick Denton and company for clarification.)

So who griped? Not us, say HBO’s reps, and that makes sense, since the clip is first and foremost a great ad for the pay channel.

“Rights issue,” says NBC, without elaborating. So the best guess here is that someone who owns the rights to the “Game of Thrones” soundtrack complained.

That soundtrack comes from LA-based Varèse Sarabande, which specializes in film scores and soundtracks, and is distributed by Universal Music Group. I’ve asked Universal to confirm that the label complained, so we’ll see. But it’s a pretty good bet, because music rights are almost always the cause of this kind of thing.

That’s because music is particularly difficult to clear, even by byzantine digital media rights standards. Each song is composed of two elements, the recording and the underlying composition, and each one of those elements can have multiple owners and … ugh.

Amazing anything gets cleared, ever. And for a show that gets built on the fly, like SNL does, every week, even more amazing.

So nothing to do here, I guess, but shrug. Things are a lot better than they were way back in 2005, when NBC was befuddled by “Lazy Sunday” and YouTube. And at least Saturday Night Live’s writing staff can still point us to the Gawker clip, which has racked up some 300,000 views in the last couple days.

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— Parker Higgins via Twitter