If you’ve not been living under a rock the last few weeks, you’ve probably run across news about LonelyGirl15. LonelyGirld15 is a girl named Bree who is homeschooled and keeps a video diary on YouTube. She belongs to some unspecified religion and is friends with a boy named Daniel. There was a lot of debate as to the reality of the videos when they came out. I sort of figured they were fake because 15 year old girls don’t do lots of video editing and musical montages.
Anyway, the debate about LonelyGirl15 had eventually gotten to the point where it was on major news networks before the creations came forward and said it was indeed fake and it was a film project. The actress who plays Bree got to appear on the Tonight Show and the number of viewers of the LonelyGirl15 clips has only increases. The press attention has been huge.
Of the 30 some clips which have been put on YouTube, they all have between 300,000 and 850,000 views. I’m not sure how they track views, but given stats I’ve seen on other videos I could easily see the numbers being much higher. Easily over 1 million people have watched at least one LonelyGirl15 video clip, with several hundred thousand having watched many or all of them. Those are people to took the time and effort to go and find the videos. Millions more know about it from the news.
To give you an idea what it takes to be successful on TV, at top 20 rated show on broadcast TV will have require about 4-5m viewers. On basic cable, it will require about half that. Many shows are able to be successful with a viewship under 1m people. The Travel Channel can survive on ratings around 0.2 and 0.4, and there are channels much less popular than that out there.
My point? You don’t need a huge audience to make money in television, especially when your production costs are low (like, a web cam). What I don’t get, is why there isn’t a network executive out there somewhere, lets say the new CW network, who wouldn’t take a flier on a LonelyGirl15 program. You got writers, a star, a premise, and most importantly an audience and lots of buzz, all for nothing. At worst, it flops like most other programs which are launched every fall. Even if it flops, you’ve gotten a lot of buzz and media attention for nothing and it makes you look very progressive compared to other networks. At best, it works and you look like a genius.
This inability to convert internet success to mainstream media is pretty much endemic to all major media. A great example is my friend Scott Kurtz who draws the comic strip PVP. Millions of people have read PVP. He has a comic book deal with Image Comics. He sells lots of t-shirts, including some which have become underground hits. He’s not alone in making a successful comic strip online. You’d think that syndicates which distribute comics would use this built in fan base as an easy way to get new talent. It should be a no brainer right? You got millions of readers, why not just reprint what’s already being done into a new medium, newspapers? Surprisingly, I can think of only one webcomic which has been picked up by a syndicate.
Syndicates are also responsible for distributing most of the columnists you read in newspapers. I’d think it would be cheaper and just as successful to go sign up popular bloggers as columnists. They’re already doing it, so it would just be a matter of distributing what’s already being done.
The biggest advantage to traditional media isn’t finding talent, developing talent, or creating talent. Its monetizing talent. Homestarrunner is better than a lot of animation you can find on television. Popular bloggers are better than most syndicated columnists. Cartoonists like Scott are better than most of the crap that pollutes the comics page in most newspapers.
In many cases you can get a following that is larger than what you could get in traditional media, but they can’t make anywhere near as much money. To me, that looks like a huge arbitrage opportunity.
Eventually, someone will get it. Within the next few years, you’re going to see more things created online make the jump to traditional media. I can’t see it not happening. Once you’ve proven you can get a audience of a million people online through only word of mouth, you can easily get that or more with some actual marketing behind you. Its a no brainer really. Your costs are so much lower than taking chances on developing your own talent, I’m only amazed it hasn’t been done more often.