I have always loved the concept of a viral video. I associate viral video with the shift in media that has meant that we can all be producers of content that can be seen by a mass audience. What an amazing opportunity. For me, it represents a shift in power and a democratic potential for more people to share their creativity with the world.
As online video has become more established as a main content type on the web, the general public aren’t the only ones realising it’s potential. Online video is being used to serve marketing needs for a lot of businesses – generally the more savvy ones. This makes sense. It is a new way to reach customers and it allows video platform websites to generate revenue.
Another industry that is catching on is the TV industry. My difficulty with TV sponsored online video is that it interferes with my idea of what a viral video is and should be. It may be that my definition of a viral video needs to change. I think there needs to be a distinction between user-generated content and content that has been generated for corporate interests.
In the fight for video virality, is the playing field level? It seems not when corporate sponsored video (e.g. for a TV company) not only has the finance and personnel to invest in pushing their videos, they will also have existing social networks to share their video content with – a head start to be envious of, surely.
An interesting case study is the Syfy series, ‘Viral Video Showdown’ which is a series of online video contests. See their trailer here:
This is an example of a TV production company attempting to cash in on the current popularity of online video. However, their ideas about what makes a video go viral are far from accurate and lack an understanding of the complexities around viral video.
There are a lot of theories about what makes a video go viral, and it isn’t difficult to identify common qualities in videos that have gone viral. However, a lot of those qualities also exist in millions of videos that haven’t gone viral. Ultimately, it is very difficult to predict what will go viral.
Kevin Allocca, YouTube Trends Manager, claims there are three main factors that make a video go viral.
1. Tastemakers – those who introduce things to a larger audience
Usually, people with a connection to a large, existing audience help videos go viral. This is often through the use of social networks on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. This is usually unintentional. A so-called tastemaker will come across a video they like and they will share it which has an unexpected impact for the view count.
2. Participation – people sharing videos & making their own versions
Content that is relevant to a large number of people (e.g. particular groups) will encourage participation. Participation can come in the form of sharing. It can also mean that viewers participate by making their own versions of the video. Participation is at the core of virality.
3. Unique and unexpected
The majority of viral videos are unique and unexpected. People will share things that take them by surprise – they will want to share that sensation with their own networks.
It seems that online video which is sponsored by a TV production company can fit with Alloca’s criteria – even if the production company is their own tastemaker. Although, I would argue that tastemaker sharing is an unintentional phenomena – a stroke of luck for the average video content creator. In terms of the other criteria Alloca mentions, TV sponsored online video can be shared like other videos, but they will always have an unfair advantage. Obviously, a marketer or a TV production company can feasibly produce video that is unique and unexpected.
Here are the two videos from episode 1 of the viral video showdown:
At the time of writing, the first (Winky Face – Official Movie Trailer) has just under 10,000 views on YouTube and the second (Going Postal Trailer) has just under 30,000 views. The judges of the show voted the one with the least views so far as the winner. I would like to know what criteria the judges used. If they have a formula to predict which videos will/should go viral, they should consider selling it to marketers!
It is difficult to answer the question, ‘can TV produce viral videos?’, based on the Syfy programme. This is because the answer depends on a) the question of when a view count should be considered ‘viral’ and b) the passage of time. A video is only viral, once it has gone viral. In fact, this could happen some months or even years after it has been live on the Internet.
There was something exciting about the viral video phenomena when YouTube was in it’s infancy. As a viewer, I didn’t feel manipulated – it felt organic and videos seemed like an authentic reflection of what lay content creators were generating from their everyday lives – content for the sake of itself rather than for the purpose of reaching mass audiences. Will Joe Bloggs be able to compete with the big companies in the future? it remains to be seen. YouTube has a big responsibility for keeping the platform as democratic as possible. Otherwise it risks becoming just another TV channel.