January 14, 2008

The Establishing of Viral Video as Social Norm?

Net measurement firm Nielsen Online and Pew Internet have reported a notable growth in activity within the burgeoning online video sharing realm during the latter third of last year. Nielsen and many other observant eyes on the web are beginning to conclude that 2007 was indeed the year that video sharing went from taking tentative steps to leaping bounds on its journey to an established, every day form of media. Tim Wintle, our very own internet mastermind had pointed out these trends to us last week, and his data correlates strongly with that produced by the aforementioned web watchers.

So are we experiencing a genuine online revolution, or merely an inexplicable blip?

Well, the statistics and the graphs certainly suggest that a boom in online video usage is underway, with the news making national and international press. According to Nielsen, 48% of US net users visited a video sharing site last year, and interestingly, around 22% of Americans make their own videos and 14% of these share them online. Tim pointed out in his data that the number of views per video on YouTube alone had doubled its value during the final quarter of 2007 in when compared with the first. It wasn’t just YouTube that enjoyed this rise in interest; according to BBC News , Crackle’s average also audience doubled throughout November and December.

During these uncertain and early stages a number of ideas have been put forward to try and explain this flourishing activity:

Firstly, the consequences of the Striking of the Writers Guild of America (WGA). It could be said that due to the threat of, or a genuine lack of ‘official’ or ‘traditional’ entertainment being caused by the WGA strike since November 5th, many have sought an alternative through the creation or the consumption of online videos. However, as plausible as this is, the data suggests that following the announcement of the strike, a significant enough surge in activity to render this an explanation is somewhat lacking. This notion would also rely on the public, as an audience, reacting in unison, completely independently of one another during a very short period of time. I would expect that for a pattern to emerge from a factor such as the strike, the data would have to be studied over a much longer period of time, or at least until a ‘dropping off point’ (the tail-end of work – previous to the strike – drying up) had been established.

Secondly, this trend could be at least partially explained by a maturing relationship between online video and memorable TV moments, or as Chris put it, “Is TV the real internet star?”. Many users use online video sharing sites to view the best bits from television shows, like a memorable line, a funny moment, a great goal, a funny blooper or generally people acting or behaving ridiculously; and many of these moments derive from Television programming. Sites like YouTube allow the viewer to neatly view, share and voice their opinions on these highlights at their will, and it is arguably these elements – as the defining of the niche – that have gradually driven people towards the benefits of Viral Videos. Consequently, this could be the beginning of a new generation (70% of YouTube users are said to be under the age of 30) of mutual dependence between Television and Video sharing sites; with good TV as the catalyst for successful virals. This can be further clarified by seeing the rise in online video activity following memorable TV moments of 2007 such as Miss Teen USA or Rachel on the X Factor as demonstrated on Tim’s white paper.

During these early stages, it is difficult to determine the definitive reason for this trend, or to clarify whether this is a permanent change or a manic three months for Viral Videos. Either way, it is going to be particularly interesting first quarter of 2008 for Viral lovers worldwide, and maybe, just maybe, some real and permanent patterns will emerge from this very interesting development!

See Tim’s white paper for more information on the changing trends in YouTube views in the final quarter of 2007.

Ian Ochiltree