Many of this week's Nobel Prize awards announcements and laureate lectures are being streamed live as part of a program started this year between the Nobel Foundation and Google Inc.'s YouTube. They join other new Web features including "Ask a Laureate," which lets YouTube users hear 2006 physics laureate John Mather answer questions about subjects like the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe.
Established in 1900 to manage the money that finances the prizes, the Nobel Foundation was for years shrouded in secrecy because its legal structure prevented it from funding modern media projects or partnering with private corporations. In 1999, however, the foundation created a nonprofit rights association that now oversees two museums and two companies -- Nobel Media AB, which manages media rights, and Nobel Web AB, which expands Nobel's online presence.
"The foundation is creating new things every year -- interesting things -- and we wanted to control it," said Nobel Foundation Executive Director Michael Sohlman.
This year, the foundation's growing appetite for exploiting its content comes against a backdrop of criticism in some quarters over the selection of President Barack Obama as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Some saw his selection as an attempt to create buzz with a winner who hasn't yet done enough to merit the honor.
Mr. Sohlman says the organization's "absolute Chinese walls" prevent anyone at its assorted companies or the foundation from influencing the selection committees.
For years, Swedish and Norwegian television broadcast the ceremonies under an informal arrangement. Now the media company has a portfolio of 12 to 15 television programs a year, including documentaries and discussion shows, many sponsored by corporations and aired on public broadcasters such as PBS and the BBC.
When Mr. Obama delivers his speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, television companies will pay Nobel Media an undisclosed licensing fee to broadcast the feed, which will also be seen on the foundation's Web site.
Nobel Media's nontelevision initiatives include publishing deals and a lecture series sponsored by Honeywell International Inc., which has brought Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry to lecture to more than 14,000 students and teachers across the world, and a similar initiative sponsored by AstraZeneca PLC for Nobel laureates in medicine and physiology.
Bringing private companies into the fold can be tricky. Last year, Swedish prosecutors opened a preliminary investigation into AstraZeneca's ties to the Nobel committee, after German scientist Harald zur Hausen won the prize in medicine for discovering that the human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer. AstraZeneca made a component of vaccines preventing the virus.
The investigation didn't proceed. AstraZeneca says it didn't seek to influence the prizes and Nobel said the company's involvement had no bearing on the prize.
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