NBC’s Wayback Machine is Broken


It was one of those moments that made you smile.

Last week, a piece of footage arrived on the net. It could only be described as nostalgic. It was an episode of the Today Show from 1994 – with hosts Bryant Gumble and Katie Couric puzzeling over this thing called – ‘internet’.

It was – without a doubt – charming.

It reminded us all, for a moment, that this change swirling around us is really still a brand new thing. After all, 1994 is a scant 15 years ago. A blink of an eye. And for many of us, watching that clip brought us back to a time not long ago when we were wondering about this thing called ‘internet’.

With NBC a newly acquired asset of Comcast, and the News Division promised autonomy from their cable parent, this bip of video seemed like a brilliant piece of PR. Or, if not -then a creative web historian putting this bit of history out as a warm hearted reminder of just how far we’ve come.

Sadly, it was none of those things.

NBC, it seems, didn’t much want this video released. So, after finding the employee who’d raided the secret vaults – NBC fired the unnamed leaker. Thanks for the internet memories, now out you go.


This isn’t some backstage video, or private outtake. This was BROADCAST – as in, we’ve all seen it already. Or could have. And it wasn’t wikileaks top secret stuff, it was the FREAKING TODAY SHOW, ON NATIONAL TV.

Come on NBC, really?

Ok, I get that the employee broke a rule. And according to NBC, they’ve done it before. But since we don’t know their name, we’ll have to take NBC’s word for that.

The real issue here is about the chilling effect of NBC firing an employee for releasing a bit of what is essentially public domain material. What happens if an employee in the News Division sees a piece of footage that they think has been censored, should they just sweep it under the rug? NBC’s answer is clearly yes.

And then there’s the simple fact that it was harmless, funny, and frankly newsworthy enough that NBC used the clip on THE TODAY SHOW last week, benefiting from the memories, and the harmless introspection.

Broadcasters don’t get to control history. Funny, or not. Serious or Silly. And firing an employee for a harmless bit of footage on the web that had already been public seems to have echos of big brother.

The guy – or woman – should get their job back. Seriously.

Steve Rosenbaum is the CEO of the video platform Magnify a former magician, and an innovator in the new media space.

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