VH1, Bravo get content, ratings from Web virals

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Tom Cruise's couch jumping and Bush and Kerry crooning "This Land Is My Land" are now the stuff of TV programming.

Both NBC Universal's Bravo and MTV Network's VH1 have launched programs that feature 30 minutes of consumer-made video clips, like those that are constantly e-mailed as attachments across the Web. Some clips are created by viewers and submitted to the cable channels, others have already made the rounds of e-mail inboxes.

Viral videos are predominantly the purview of Internet-obsessed young men-the sweet spot is 30-with a hankering for the slightly profane or absurd who habitually peruse a number of such sites and blogs for whatever is new or popular.

And while iFilm and similar sites thrive with advertising, it's a toss up whether such Internet-specific content will attract the audience or advertisers on TV.

Short digital home movies have long been a focus of entertainment for the broadband-enabled Web-surfer. Sites such as iFilm, which was acquired by MTV Networks in October, attract up to 3 million visitors a month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.

Some were originally famous or shocking TV moments, but many are homegrown silly or irreverent takes of a few seconds in length-showcasing the talents of say, a chubby guy pretending to battle Jedi warriors with a broomstick, or a New Jersey kid lip-synching to a Romanian band. The most famous example is the JibJab animated clips, which satirized current events and landed their creators on "The Jay Leno Show."

"JibJab has shown that viral videos can pierce pop culture in other media forms," said John R. Rash, a radio commentator and college professor at the University of Minnesota on mass media and popular culture. "If [these programs] create a compelling way to get an audience to notice a cable network, they will be a good promotional platform."

The goal for both Bravo and VH1 is to entice viewers outside of the 20-something Net-crawlers whose online avocation are viral videos.

"We have a high-tech-savvy audience, but they don't necessarily have the time to look at the videos online," said Frances Berwick, senior VP-programming and production, Bravo.

Good numbers

Bravo's "Outrageous and Contagious: Viral Videos" premiered on Nov. 17. A handful of one-offs have appeared since then, and a series is slated to launch on Feb. 20. The premiere delivered 18-to-49-year-olds, 40% more than the prior four-week time period average, and the number of 25-to-54-year-old viewers was 15% higher.

VH1's series, "Web Junk 20" premiered Jan. 13. The program features 20 Internet clips that are the most popular among iFilm users. Ratings showed 635,000 total viewers, 15% more than last year during the same time period. "It held the lead-in from the show `Best Week Ever,"' said Michael Hirschorn, exec VP-original programming and production for MTV Networks. Also, iFilm has received a 50% uptick in user-made clips since the series premiered.

The Bravo sales team is currently seeking advertisers for the series. Current brands on "Web Junk 20" are run of network. Going forward, the network is targeting wireless, automotive, theatrical and video-game advertisers. Even if TV advertisers warm up slowly, such programming is so inexpensive, it's worth the risk, said Eric Valk Peterson, VP-media, Agency.com, whose job and pastime often converge around viral videos online.

"What makes the online videos so cool is I can see a video of a Ford car ad, and I can take it and change the car into a transformer ... and put it back out there," said Tom Ajello, creative director, Agency.com. "It's still the Ford brand, but I've made it my own. If it's on TV, maybe people talk about it at the water cooler, but it dies there."

Others disagree. Word-of-mouth consultant Dave Evans, VP-social media, Digital Video, disagrees. "Viral doesn't only exist online," he said. "Water coolers are still pretty powerful places."

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