Now that her clips from “Britain’s Got Talent” have earned well over 1oo,ooo,ooo hits in a little over a week, it’s time to get some sense of the Susan Boyle phenomenon. Anytime something hits popular culture with this type of intensity, some will find a way to profit while others will suffer. A highly-unscientific sampling of blogs and news stories reveal at least some early winners and losers.
On the upside, her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” seems to be revitalizing interest in the twenty-two year old Broadway hit Les Miserables. Over the past week, the soundtrack spiked back into the iTunes Top 10 and Amazon’s Top 25. Local show productions have seen increases in ticket sales, including one Vancouver company that reported sales tripling between Tuesday and Friday of last week. Other productions saw their Google page impressions skyrocket, with one California production’s page impressions rising from 7,000 to 50,000 in about a week.
Clearly, Simon Cowell has won as well, by developing and producing the program and potentially providing a label for Susan’s future work. And yet, since his production company Freemantle Media hasn’t made a penny off her groundbreaking number of video hits, one could argue that he’s also lost. After all, the standard record label revenue-sharing model for music videos on YouTube would have paid $500,000. Even worse, YouTube admitted they haven’t run a single ad alongside any or her posted clips as well, so they too missed a potential bonanza.
Amidst all the posted discussions, one of the more compelling and controversial essays on this topic appeared on the Silicon Alley Insider site. Benjamin Wayne, CEO of Fliqz, posted an essay titled “YouTube is Doomed” which paints an incredibly harsh portrait of what he terms “the viral-video bubble economy.” He draws most of his metrics from a recent Credit Suisse report pegging YouTube’s 2009 losses at nearly half a billion dollars, primarily due to their voracious, ever-expanding need for bandwidth and glaring lack of advertising dollars.
Essentially, Wayne argues that YouTube’s parent company Google won’t be able—or willing–to afford sensations like Susan Boyle. Of course, Wayne’s POV is not universal; a number of very vocal and informed critics immediately posted responses taking both the author and the site’s editor to task for not clearly announcing that, though a tiny fraction of their size, Wayne’s company Fliqz is a YouTube competitor, which certainly colors his perspective.
At this point, after hundreds of millions of viewings and billions of written words, what can we learn from the Susan Boyle sensation? Probably three things. First; the online video industry will certainly change to try to monetize these unusual cultural events. Second; the online video industry’s ability to monetize these cultural events will remain decidedly uncertain.
And finally, everyone everywhere delights in the unexpected joy of a true surprise. Good on you Susan.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
PS: On a related if not entirely congruent side note, my friend Mark Wegener wonders why everyone is amazed that “ugly people can sing: what, haven’t people heard of Willie Nelson? Neil Young? Meatloaf? “