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.