Sure, that hilarious viral video made its way all around the office, passed through the inbox of your cousin on the other side of the country, and found its way onto your kid’s computer by the time you got home. Sure, it had everyone in hysterics, and it even managed to generate a few ad dollars on the site it came from. But ultimately it just ends up in the trash folder like all the rest, right?
Several major television networks are beginning to think that viral videos have a longer potential lifespan, and are figuring out how to cash in on the craze that is sweeping the web. VH1 was the first to step up to the plate when it launched “Web Junk 20” early in January, a weekly program in which comic Patrice O’Neal introduces the funniest, most popular, most bizarre, and most awkward clips circulated through the online community. Adding a brilliant twist of interaction to an already innovative TV concept, IFILM has partnered with the show to enable viewers to submit their own video clips in hopes of making it on air, a la America’s Funniest Home Videos.
In its four weeks on air, Web Junk 20 has generated buzz through the roof and successfully managed to transfer the appeal of viral video across multiple platforms. According to Nielson Media Research, the third episode of Web Junk 20, which aired on January 27th, scored an impressive .6 among the key 18-49 demo, reaching 914,000 viewers, and helped VH1 score its most watched January ever. But let’s not stop there. The show has proven that it can redirect its TV audience back to the computer screen they came from: since “Web Junk 20” first aired, IFILM’s site has experienced a 60 percent increased in its wide collection of user-submitted videos. The show also aired on Verizon Wireless’ mobile platform VCAST, and accounted for 25% of all VH1 content requested on that medium.
VH1 earned this success by understanding that the quirky, flimsy nature of viral videos must be held together with strong continuity. VH1 executive Michael Hirschorn addressed this aspect in a recent statement: “People say this is about advancements in technology, but it’s not. It’s a creative issue — 99% of the stuff out there is spew. What TV programmers are trying to figure out is how to unlock and organize the good stuff.”
And by TV programmers, he didn’t just mean VH1. There are many networks in line behind VH1, encouraged by their early success, and brandishing original angles on what is becoming the newest genre of TV programming. This month will see the premiere of NBC’s “Carson’s Cyberhood,” a collection of viral videos hosted by Carson Daly and featuring a cash prize for the creator of each week’s most popular clip. Additionally, Bravo is ready to unveil “Outrageous and Contagious,” and USA is still finalizing its plans for a show called “eBaum’s World.”
The appearance of viral videos on TV represents an exciting bridge between consumer platforms. More and more often, the home computer is getting up, walking into the living room, and sitting down next to the television set. The language of programmers and advertisers in both television and the Internet is assimilating so that they can speak clearly to the consumer who has both mediums at their disposal. Shows like Web Junk 20 and its many inevitable followers have picked up on this phenomenon, and are seeing that this language doesn’t lose any of its trendiness or sense of humor when it bridges the gap.