Online-Video: The Gap Between “Stars” and Others Widens

Put on your thinking caps, kids. Lots of wisdom in here. Most of it is additive to Beyond Viral, but go buy that damned book if you haven’t. And if you have read Beyond Viral, please provide a gratuitous complement below even if it’s fake. Hey I’m not expecting to outsell Hunger Games, but my goal is to at least keep pace with Garfield’s “Get Seen.” Is that too much for a girl to ask?

It’s been apparent that the online-video “star” pyramid is growing sharper, despite the continued myth that “YouTube can create a celebrity from scratch” (as reinforced by Miley Cyrus alleged snub of Jessica’s “Friday” hit). The truth?

  • One-hit wonders like "David After Dentist" don't generally spawn a popular channel

    While it’s true that YouTube does spawn occasional “overnight sensations,” it’s about the same odds as getting struck by lightening while scratching a winning lotto ticket. Furthermore, only a tiny portion of those “viral” hits take their creators beyond the one-hit wonders. About 85% of Booba1234’s views come from one video: “David After the Dentist.” In fact I’m guessing the username “Booba1234” would have a .02% aided awareness even with the ubiquity of that one clip… a meme.

  • Even the “rockstars” of new media.. almost never break into traditional media (name an exception?). Most of YouTube’s most-subscribed are virtually unknown beyond YouTube (you won’t find them on Yahoo Video, AOL Video, MSN and certainly not Hulu.
  • And, most interestingly, the only the fiercely committed and adaptive webstars even endure even on YouTube. Their life cycles are getting shorter, and today’s hotties are tomorrow’s castaways (even though YouTube has kindly built floors on their monthly views so they won’t starve).

Put in better terms (and I’ll credit this to a wise YouTube insider): the online-video weblebrity survival is like a marathon race. The gap widens between the front-runners and the bloated masses. (In that analogy, I’m the sweaty red-faced guy panting at mile marker 4).

YouTube is more like a marathon at mile 20... the gap widens

Example: In 2007 we all shared tips freely, but now in 2010 and 2011 when one of us “cracks the code” (begging viewers to comment can jolt a video’s popularity and “spotlight” treatment) the insight is less likely to be shared among fellow creators. Understandable given the increasing competition and financial stakes. That’s part of the benefit of formal or informal coalitions (Next New Networks, The Station). People in these tend to more willingly share learnings. This week NNN is running a series of prank videos that will all “point” to each other, thus raising the collective views. With luck, these videos might even be “clustered” by YouTube’s algorithm in the same way that many videos are, which is of paramount importance to their enduring views over time. For example, search for any of these categories: cute kids, laughing kids, funny animals, pranks, fails. You’ll find that YouTube accurately predicts what you’re after, and serves you up relevant videos in that genre. And you’ll find the same videos whenever you do this, and whether you’re logged in or not. Being a “YouTube Partner” caught in those “swirls” of popular categories means, quite frankly, an annuity of advertising income.

"Laughing baby" search on YouTube reveals what I call a "content swirl." The same videos are clustered, and predictably show you related videos.

My thought was that the total number of online viewers would always grow, such that more competition (especially from commercial content) would not erode the amateur fan base. However New York Times’ Alex Mindlin points out something interesting and important from the last comScore report: the sheer numbers of online-video viewers has not grown much at all in the past years. The growth has largely been due to more consumption by a fairly static number of viewers. This will change as web-connected television becomes a reality, but the laggards will not binge on as many YouTube amateur shorts, I think. They’ll gravitate toward well-produced 30 minute shows and 2 hours films.

So the reality is that the “new amateur rich” are getting richer (many far surpassing $100K annual incomes), but the barriers to entry are increasing and I wonder about the endurance of this medium… just like Indie performers at the dawn of the Internet, are they a “fad”? Sure we’ll always still see rising new stars, and that makes it look easy. But beyond the select “most-viewed” webstars, the mid-tier content (even those with 200-700K subscribers) is seeing a significant drop in views on recent videos. Part of this can be explained by YouTube’s algorithm generously rewarding vintage clips… most of my 4-6 million views a month comes from about 5 of my 1000 videos.

And here’s the interesting and somewhat confusing factor. While I am thrilled about the stability that algorithm provides to me as a creator (keeping my recurring daily/monthly views fairly consistent), it is understandable but interesting that “vintage trumps new” videos. Why? The shelf life for social media and amateur content, with a handfull of exceptions, is organically short. As Daisy Whitney reports (crediting Steve Rubel), social media content decays quickly. If a video, tweet or Facebook post is going to get a lot of views and engagement, it’s usually within the first couple days, and we’ve seen that in numerous studies like this dated but important Tubemogul report.

My most-viewed videos (like Scary Maze, i are Cute Kitten, Farting in Public, and America’s Funniest Bloopers represent about 30% of my total 200 million views. My recent videos, by contrast, are more in the 10-30,000 view range despite having 240,000 subscribers. While I can’t control how YouTube serves up videos, these facts remind me that I need to post more regularly since subscriptions drives views less than habit. Let me say that again because it’s very, very important: habit makes someone “current,” and if content isn’t refreshed predictably then the audience wanders away.

Interestingly, my sponsored videos sometimes continue to get views too. My Fox television show promotions for Fringe, Lie to Me and Glee have continued surpass millions and millions combined, alone topping the Hitviews original campaign goals (which also involved dozens of other creators). These videos, presumably, are either showing up in searches — or more likely via YouTube’s “related videos” spotlights. I just realized this by chance, and it speaks to an important value proposition of webstar videos: they go beyond a campaign period, despite the obsession we have with “fresh” content.

You'd watch a bad new release before a good classic you haven't seen. Guaranteed.

Our Fresh-Baked Obsession: It’s true that almost all of the “viral” videos on Unruly’s “Viral Video Chart” are “fresh baked” (posted within the past week) and that makes perfect sense. When’s the last time you started your visit to Netflix, “On Demand,” or (for you old folks) Blockbuster by browsing the classics? I don’t need to convince you that there are classics you’ve never seen that are going to be far, far better than what’s on the “new releases” shelf. You know that. But you’re drawn to “new” as if it subconsciously means “better.” That’s a human reaction that has two sources: first it’s based on the “prehistoric” brain (as opposed to our newer “executive brain” where “fresh” equals safer. Fresh meat, fresh grains, fresh vegetables. Second, I think it’s because absorbing “fresh” content keeps us “current” and “topical,” and provides a social glue. We can all bond in a collective groan about how much “Friday” sucked and how cute that new baby is when she rips up paper.

Screw it. I’m over thinking. I’m gonna go watch a baby giggle while ripping paper.

What We Can Learn from Most-Viewed Videos of 2010

What can we learn from the most-viewed “viral” videos of 2010? How are they similar and different from years past?

First, let’s take a look at the run-down, courtesy of YouTube and ReelSEO, here’s the list. YouTube has a new trend blog/website that’s worth bookmarking or RSS’ing: YouTube Trends.

  • The BED INTRUDER SONG! (a news clip turned into a meme with help from schmoyoho
  • TIK TOK KESHA Parody: Glitter Puke – Key of Awe$ome #13 (another Next New Networks hit)
  • Greyson Chance Singing Paparazzi (a 6th grader with Justin Bieber-like cut, featuring shaky handheld camera)
  • Annoying Orange Wazzup (Daneboe’s facial fruit was spurred to amazing popularity in 2010… note that since Daneboe launched Annoying Orange’s own channel early in 2010, the collection has been viewed nearly 400 million times… giving him more views than this entire top-10 list).
  • Old Spice | The Man Your Man Could Smell Like (hey a commercial- see what does the author of Beyond Viral know?)
  • Yosemitebear Mountain Giant Double Rainbow 1-8-10 (the dude trips out seeing two rainbows)
  • OK Go – This Too Shall Pass – Rube Goldberg Machine version (Okgo, the treadmill band does it again)
  • THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE – Trailer (really? a trailer?)
  • Jimmy Surprises Bieber Fan (Jimmy Kimmel is handling his old/new media balance quite well- check out the girl get a visit from Bieber)
  • Ken Block’s Gymkhana THREE, Part 2; Ultimate Playground; l’Autodrome (this is the only one I hadn’t seen- a racing car… snore). Speaking of videos I haven’t seen (even the “Viral Video Genius” can’t see them all), did you see Cookie Monster audition for SNL? If Jim Henson was alive, SNL would be auditioning for The Muppet Show.
  • So what are the common themes?

    1. Nothing sells like a song (most of the top-10 all-time most viewed YouTube videos are songs).
    2. Quirky is still nice — whether it’s manufactured (Annoying Orange) or authentic (Double Rainbow)
    3. Viral is increasingly a symptom of offline popularity (Kimmel/Bieber/Lady Gaga/Twighlight)
    4. The biggest difference between 2009 and 2010 is that professional & commercial content trumped user-generated videos, with only one true exception (the Double Rainbow).
    5. With the exception of Daneboe (Annoying Orange) and Schmoyo (AutoTune the News), none of these really spawned a new person or channel.
    6. Production quality mattered more this year than years past. Which is why we amateurs need to up our game (see my new ShootLikePro blog).
    7. Note that the top-ten list excludes major record labels, or they would dominate list. YouTube has increasingly become a free visual jute box.

    How is this list similar or different from 2007, 2008 and 2009?

    1. Commercials are still the exception not rule. This year’s popular advertising campaign/commercial was Old Spice, and last year it was Evian’s roller skating babies. I referred to the latter in my book as the “exception to the rule” that promotional videos don’t often go viral. Even though this is increasingly true, 2011 to spawn some Old Spice knockoffs nonetheless. Hopefully a few brands and agencies will try a “road less travelled” with better odds.
    2. Both 2009 and 2009 lists had a Twilight trailer. Again- this says less about online video as the fact that the films are extremely popular.
    3. Last year’s “double rainbow” was the quirky “David After the Dentist,” now at 75 million views (that’s almost half of the views I’ve garnered on my entire collection). Hopefully we’ll continue to rally around odd moment like these.
    4. As the medium matures, we’ve seen fewer “quirky” amateur clips than, say, 2008 when we had viralizations like Fred, “Christian the Lion” and ImprovEverywhere’s “Frozen Grand Central.” The memes of 2007 were even more interesting to me — from The Landlord and “Leave Britney Alone” to Obama Girl (Next New Networks) and the South Carolina Miss Teen USA clip
    5. Last year’s kid singing Paparazzi was a more choreographed wedding video (Forever). People love an amateur singer overnight success story (Susan Boyle).
    6. Almost all of the top-10 popped on YouTube. The world’s second-largest search engine remains the most vibrant channel.
    7. The teen factor is still driving views, even if each year offers content for a broader demographic.

    Each year the top 10 most-viewed hits are a smaller percent of overall views… it’s the long tail effect. Finally, do you notice anything missing for the first year in a while? No SNL Digital shorts… or sadly, anything from The Onion, College Humor or Funny Or Die.

    Okay now go buy my book, or tell a journalist to interview me for a delightful year-end segment on viral videos.

    Beyond Viral: Everything About Online Video You Were Afraid to Ask

    David After Dentist: I’ll Have What He’s Having

    David after the dentist. Kid reacts to dentist visit… tripping out.

    This is a priceless video. I want to party with David and his dentist…

    You have four eyes. I feel funny. Is this the real world? Is this going to be forever?

    From the description we learn the details from creator Booba1234:  “This is my 7 year old son who had an extra tooth removed last summer, 2008. I had the camera because he was so nervous before I wanted him to see before and after. He was so out of it after, I had to carry him out of the office. The staff was laughing and I had tears it was so funny.