Measuring Viral Videos and Making Use of the Web

15 06 2008

So, do you know that seeding videos on the web can give you amazing brand recognition? Do you know that the Numa Numa video, for instance, as had over 19,000,000 views? Now, if only you could trap that magic, you could make some real money from it, eh? (or at least, according to the recent South Park episode, some Imaginary Dollars).

[Moving out of Heavy Irony Mode now.]

Well, not so fast. The real problem with monetizing all of that web activity is that you can’t reliably measure it yet. It’s easy to get clicks, sure. And it’s easy, if you are controlling things, to measure how many people are watching your video, how far they watched, and other data.

The problem is aggregating that data. As Ken Rutkowski is fond of saying, there are 3 M’s to web success — Move (that is, bringing people to your site), Measure and Monetize.

Well, Viral Video Chart, is a web site that is trying to do something about that.

From Viral Video ChartThis site is designed to monitor occurrences and viewings of videos on YouTube. At present it doesn’t check the other web sites, meaning that Viacom’s products won’t show up that much.

But what it does do so far is pretty interesting. For one thing it tracks the shape of viewer interest. So, for instance, on the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal HD trailer page, you can see that viewing of the trailer peaked on May 21st, the day before the film opened (the chart to the left links to a blowup of that chart — I know that it’s hard to read here). By the following weekend, it had dropped to virtually nothing, and has been bouncing around on the low end of the scale since then — not too different from its box office numbers.

This data is not dissimilar to the numbers that Moviefone collects and sells, pegging potential box office to the number of people who call to get information on showtimes and people who do searches on the films on its website.

The possibilities are huge here, if you’re interested in making money. On today’s main page for Viral Video, you can see that three of the top four performers are I’m Voting Republican, Barack Obama’s Speech on Father’s Day and John McCain Debates Himself on Supporting Bush which certainly speaks to the way in which the public is getting information on the Presidential race today. It’s no secret that one of the reasons for Obama’s success this year has been his use of the Internet. This information just backs that up.

And that is the main point here. We are getting more and more sophisticated at turning the wild wild west of the web into something graspable, something marketable, and something comprehensible. Sure, it’s still possible to lose an entire morning going from one link to another. But social networking companies like StumbleUpon are attempting to bring some order to this. What good does it do to have a zillion videos on YouTube if you can’t find the one you want? How good is the web for research if you need to rely solely on Google to find information?

There will be some — myself included — who will mourn the disappearance of that wild web experience. But there will some — myself included — who will be happy to see just what we’re doing with it, when and how. That’s what measurement is going to do. And it’s only beginning.

Marshall Herskovitz talks about “Quarterlife”

12 06 2008

For those of you who’ve been watching Big Time Movies instead, let me explain what Quarterlife is/was. Producers Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick created an Internet-only, self-referential series about a group of twenty-somethings who hang out and get crazy when one of them starts keeping a video blog on a website called “quarterlife.”

The series did well enough on YouTube that NBC phoned up the two producers. They knew their phone number because they had previously teamed on such mainstream television shows as “thirtysomething,” and “My So-Called Life.” So they weren’t exactly unknowns. Anyway, the show went on. They called it “Quarterlife” (no sense in screwing up a good thing, right?) and it lasted exactly one episode. And now Herskovitz talks about the process and what he’s learned in a long interview on Debra Kaufman’s new but increasingly valuable blog (As an aside, Debra is a journalist with years of experience in publications like The Hollywood Reporter, TV Week, Film & Video, Editor’s Guild
Magazine, Wired,
The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and American Cinematographer.)

When the show tanked there were tons of think pieces about how Internet content couldn’t move into mainstream media. Which, to me, sorta missed the point. Nobody ever said that Internet entertainment was the equivalent of mainstream entertainment. The translation from one to another isn’t just as simple as adding 19 minutes of running time. There is no real equivalent to the Numa Numa guy on network television, and there’s no real equivalent to the complexity of “Lost” on the Internet. There are some mobisode series that are interesting and plot-detailed, but the very nature of watching for three to five minutes and then going away for a week or two or three makes the type of twisted plot and timelines very hard to do. Lost actually has a pretty interesting web presence but it comes from doing added and different types of content, rather than trying to replicate their winning television formula.

And that’s the real thing that Quarterlife teaches us. Translation isn’t what new media platforms are all about. Addition is what makes sense. There are a lot of different types of screens out there. We need to take advantage of each in their own ways.

Panel This Saturday

3 06 2008

USC’s film school has an extraordinary group of students attending. One group, the Women In Cinematic Arts, is holding a great conference this Saturday that is open to the public. It’s called the “WCA Industry Forum 2008: Making Your Vision A Reality.” It’s an all-day event and pretty cheap, even if you’re not a member. It will have panels on:

  • Creating and Delivering a Television Series
  • Navigating the Studio System
  • Independent Filmmaking
  • Preparing your Film for Film Festivals
  • Increasing Production Opportunities for Women, and
  • Trends in Alternative Media

I will be moderating the last panel, which is subtitled “From Your Cutting Room to YouTube” at 2:45. It’s going to be really interesting with these great panelists:

Kim Moses – Director: The Ghost Whisperer and principal in Sander/Moses Productions.
Fonda Berosini – Participant Media
Ken Rutkowski – KenRadio
Jesse Albert – Agent: New Media & Branded Entertainment, ICM

We’re going to be rambling over a range of topics from “What the hell is alternative media anyway?” to “How do I break into new media?” to “How can I get online distribution for my shorts?” It should be an interesting hour, and the rest of the day looks fabulous.

You can find more details about the program, and registration, at the Women In Cinematic Arts site.

Intellectual Property – Carrot and Stick

21 04 2008

Chacocanyon imageA recent article in The Scotsman, entitled “Those Who Can, Create. Those Who Can’t, Copy,” celebrates this Saturday’s World Intellectual Property Day by noting the recent lawsuits filed by J.K. Rowling, against the writer of a Harry Potter encyclopedia written by a fan, a UK ad for Berocca Vitamins which borrows rather heavily from the famous video by Ok Go for “Here It Goes Again,” and a host of other instances of overly zealous “homage”.

Nobody is overly surprised by this, not in a world where YouTube video responses are just as popular as the original videos that inspired them (check out this response, for instance, to the above Ok Go video). When you’ve got Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Steven Ambrose doing the same over in the literary world, it takes a lot to get people to notice videos which rip off fun bands from the early 21st century. Still, when people start losing money over this sort of thing, you can expect the courts to get involved. In this case, there were apparently discussion (according to the article) with Ok Go about using their work but, when they weren’t successful, the ad agency making the Berocca commercial went ahead with their own version of it.

Another case, involving Guiness and the filmmaker Medhi Norowzian, is also discussed:

Norowzian had previously submitted a showreel to [advertising agency] Arks that included the short film “Joy,” which showed a man performing an exuberant dance on a rooftop. Arks submitted a script and storyboard based upon the film to Guinness and Norowzian was approached to direct. Unwilling to “commercialise” an existing idea, he refused and a new director was instructed to create something “with an atmosphere broadly similar to that portrayed in Joy”.

Norowzian lost his appeal against a High Court decision dismissing his copyright infringement claim, because the court decided that the film, not the dance, was the original work and Anticipation’s jump-cut editing made it substantially different.

“The important distinction,” explains Colin Hulme, a partner in the intellectual property and technology team of law firm Burness LLP, “is that copyright only protects the expression of the idea, not the idea itself.

But the really interesting example they give is with Apple. English Mac fan Nick Haley created a short commercial on his own for the iPod Touch, which Apple liked. Rather than follow its normal practice of suing the pants off of Haley, Apple actually offered to buy his idea, which they proceeded to reshoot professionally with Haley’s involvement (a New York Times article about the commercial can be found here). Haley describes the logic of that this way:

“That’s the whole point of advertising; it needs to get to the user,” Mr. Haley said. “If you get the user to make the ads, who better?”

[As an aside, the differences between Haley’s and Apple’s versions of the ad are actually very instructive in terms of the concerns of a big corporation trying to sell its products and itself at the same time.]

Those of us who create media (intellectual property, content, whatever) have a love/hate relationship with copyright laws. Sometimes it makes it harder for us to do our work, but we certainly benefit when someone want to use or abuse our own work. Apple’s admission that not all derivative works are evil seems shockingly enlightened and, to me, the way in which media creators need to work in the new world. Creative Commons, in which content creators can create various levels of allowed public usages) strikes me as a great direction as done Moby’s offer of selected free music for “independent and non-profit filmmakers, film students, and anyone in need of free music for their independent, non-profit film, video, or short.”

Not everything needs to be free or open for copying, but allowing the artist to determine the fate of his or her own art strikes me as a great acknowledgment of the power of 21st century technology, while also realizing the need of artists to control the fate and the income from their own work.

YouTube And The News

23 02 2008

Map of KosovoFor those of you who haven’t been following it, following the secession of Kosovo, there’s been rioting in the streets of Belgrade.

A cinematographer named “gvantanamo” shot two young girls looting at a store in Slavija Square. As he puts it in his “About This Video” section, he “was astonished by their persistence on getting new clothes on a 100% off sale.”

He posted the video on YouTube and it is now a sensation. You can check it out by clicking here.

Now, this isn’t a political entry.  I studiously avoid doing those.  No, this is one of a series of entries that I’ve posted about the changing face of distribution.  The YouTube distribution of this poorly shot, but horrifyingly effective, video could never be run on your evening news.  It’s just not polished enough.  But, up there in the poor quality Flash environment of YouTube, it not only is extremely noticeable, but it’s extremely popular.  It’s not “news” in that “fair and balanced” sort of way (HA! I’d say, but I’m studiously avoiding political commentary), but it certainly fills in the gaps that the news does present.

[Map courtesy of]

Newspapers Struggle To Survive and YouTube

14 02 2008

Reuters reports that the Los Angeles Times today named Russ Stanton as its new editor. The interesting thing about this is that Stanton is presently the paper’s digital news chief.

What is even more interesting are the candidates who Stanton beat out for the job — Jim Newton, the Times editorial page editor, and Managing Editor John Arthur.

Stanton, who grew up in California, has served as the Times’ innovation editor, overseeing its digital news service, since February 2007. He joined the paper in 1997 and has also been its business editor.

In the olden days of, say, three years ago, it would have been natural to hire either of those other two people. When they didn’t come from the the family of previous editors and publishers, newspaper editors came from the ranks of the hard news gatherers and opinion makers. And the editorial pages and managing editors used to fit the bill quite nicely.

In the new days of, say, last week, everyone on the publisher side of print publishing is trying to figure out a way to make money when people are leaving general circulation newspapers and magazines in droves. And, with that exit, goes the advertisers. Newspapers are also being hampered by the emergence of eBay and Craig’s List, as viable alternatives to their previously lucrative classified ads sections.

In short, the Internet was stealing everything from them that television hadn’t already made off with. It is debatable whether they were doing a better job than newspapers did, but that didn’t seem to matter.

So, in a fit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join’em” newspapers have been designing better web sites and looking towards UGC (User Generated Content — think YouTube but on the site of your local newspaper) as a means of sucking people in. Last year I gave a presentation to a number of editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer in which we ended up talking about exactly that — in a world in which newspapers can’t afford local beat reporters, how can you get local news reported on by the newspaper. Blogs, UGC, Wikis, social networking sites — all of this came up for discussion.

And now, the Los Angeles Times, which has been around since 1881 and might be considered venerable by some, has broken with their tradition and acknowledged that someone from the digital news side of their business might actually have something to say about presenting news to people.

It’s a welcome break from venerable tradition.