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Monetizing viewership is a recurring problem online. But companies need to be prepared for spikes in popularity, whether they expect them or not.

Case in point: Susan Boyle's now infamous rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream." Susan may be bounding ahead in the competition for "Britain's Got Talent," but she's not making the show's parent company ITV any money online. YouTube videos of the singing sensation still don't have ads in the U.S. Because ITV hasn't figured out where to put the money earned on YouTube, the network is wasting 1000s of views a day.

The main concern with viral videos is that content creators cannot directly profit from their popularity. Many viral video stars have gone on to partner with big names like Dr. Pepper, Sanyo, and Weezer, but their original performances can potentially waste away online. 

Susan Boyle's videos were viewed 220 million times in April. But the owners of Britain's Got Talent didn't put ads on them. According to The New York Times:

"FremantleMedia Enterprises, a production company that owns the international digital rights to the talent show, hastily uploaded video clips to YouTube in the wake of Ms. Boyle’s debut, but the clips do not appear to be generating any advertising revenue for the company. The most popular videos of Ms. Boyle were not the official versions but rather copies of the TV show posted by individual users."

But if the videos aren't making money, it's not YouTube's fault. The online video giant has a personal stake in making sure that its content providers earn a profit. To that end, they have partnered with major networks and invidual video producers to put various types of advertising on their videos.

ABC, ESPN, and CBS have dedicated channels on YouTube where they can import their own advertising. NBC uses YouTube's ContentID system to make sure its content does not last long on the site, but many other content creators are using the system to put advertising on all of their content that ends up on YouTube.

The problem with Susan Boyle is that Fremantle left their own money on the table. 

YouTube spokesman Aaron Zamost tells Econsultancy: "The decision to run ads on a video is entirely up to our partners."

Corporations that are trying to pass off their content as user generated often forgo advertising in efforts to look more "authentic." But in the case of Susan Boyle, Fremantle could not decide who should get the money.

According to the Times:

“Britain’s Got Talent” is produced jointly by three companies and distributed in Britain by a fourth, ITV, making it difficult to ascertain which of the companies can claim a video as its own."

Uninhibited by such corporate haggling, individual YouTube users have many more opportunities to profit from the popularity of their videos. The YouTube Partner Program has existed for two years, and allows users to add advertising to their content. In addition, YouTube works hard to find videos that are gaining in popularity and quickly work to bring them into the program for monetization.

The creators of well viewed videos like David After Dentist and Charlie Bit My Finger became partners with YouTube as their videos were going viral, while well known users like Tay Zonday (he of the Chocolate Rain video) who created videos before it started are now partners.

According to YouTube, individual partners in their program are earning money on over 10 million video views every day. Users who have figured out the viral video formala are pulling in six figure salaries.

"Britain's Got Talent" was able to parlay Susan Boyle's popularity into a major branding coup. Many more people know about and watch the show now than before Boyle became a sensation. But they could have capitalized on the popularity more directly if they had sorted out the online rights to their content. Chances are they'll be ready next time. 

Meghan Keane

Published 27 May, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (5)

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Cheap Charlie

about 7 years ago

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Claire

Totally, they should have learned the lesson, but i think Susan Boyle should maybe have been in the deal as well. Her being the fantastic singer n all! Even the biggest companies cannot sometimes spot good things like that!!

about 7 years ago

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Jim Banks

Even after the whole advertising issue the domain name www.susanboyle.com is for sale on Sedo.

Price tag is $25,000 but on the back of the Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher support in the USA there was a huge opportunity for someone to capitalise.

This seems to happen a lot with ITV programs, the day Joe Swash won I'm a Celebrity there was a really crappy lander up, and that still exists to this day. Now there is likely to be a very small window before people as Joe/Susan who, but to pick up the traffic that must exist on type-ins would be a good opportunity.

For that reason alone having people watching major reality shows like Big Brother would be worth it.

BTW I don't think Susan Boyle is going to win the show Stavros Flatley for me.

about 7 years ago

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Vincent

Even worse, I think Simon Cowell and company should have helped Susan Boyle create a blog.

Just imagine how many people would have subscribed to that blog to hear about her experience on a daily basis. More than visitors to her YouTube video (the blog would contain that anyway, embeded from YouTube).

Monetising that blog would have also been easier than on YouTube IMHO.

about 7 years ago

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Swire

It's a shame to lose out on perfectly good traffic that could have been categorized into a specific viewing habit niche.

about 6 years ago

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