The viral video is dead. Long live the viral video!


So take a look at the list of the top 10 independent videos on YouTube (s GOOG) over the past year, and what do you see? Rebecca Black, Nyan Cat and … what? Yes, there are tons of people who watched those talking babies. And yes, that mom cat hugging its baby sure is cute. But they didn’t exactly invade the cultural zeitgeist in the way that memes of the past have.

Consider Pork and Beans. Back in 2008, Weezer released the following video, incorporating some of the site’s top viral sensations … and predictably going viral itself.

Back then, there was Tay Zonday, the Numa Numa kid, Afro Ninja, Chris Crocker, All Your Base, etc. Pork and Beans was a subtle wink and nod to the memes of the day, with Weezer knowing all the while that incorporating those brands would go a long way toward users engaging in conversation. It was all about cashing in on the social currency that came with knowing what was cool or interesting on the Internet.

But fast forward a few years and could you imagine such a video being made today? Who would be in it? Rebecca Black, most likely. If Weezer went back a year or so there would be the Old Spice Guy. And Antoine Dodson.

Of course, we’re not in new territory. My colleague Liz Miller called it a year ago when she predicted that 2011 would be the year that viral video died. Back then, the Double Rainbow guy and 12-year-old Greyson Chance were the only members of the top 10 not linked to existing brands. One could argue that things have gotten somewhat better, with Rebecca Black, Karmin and Maria Aragon emerging as surprise music sensations.

But even Karmin and Aragon are performing covers — really impressive covers, but covers nonetheless. As AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka noted Tuesday, what YouTube’s top videos list suggests is that people just really like “watching” music videos on the site.

What this all speaks to is not the diminishment of YouTube’s ability to take videos viral, but the fact that YouTube just isn’t about viral videos anymore. More and more, the site is about professionally produced content, repeatable success and creating consistently engaged audiences. Machinima, for instance, might not have a breakout hit in the 2011 most-watched list, but it’s created a sustainable business off the YouTube platform.

Of course, there will always be a place for stupid human tricks and cute pets on YouTube, for the same reason that America’s Funniest Home Videos somehow continues to exist. But as time goes on, the novelty of those videos — and their effect on the cultural zeitgeist — will continue to be diminished.



For the past seven years of producing audio and video podcasts for clients, we have never encouraged them to think in terms of “viral” video. The only really valuable kind of business videos that help generate buying decisions are those that encompass serious thought leadership or demonstrations of subject matter expertise that help brand specifiers decide whether you are competent to help them solve their business problems. The “60 Minutes” mantra of the late Don Hewitt is key: “Tell me a story.” Videos need to be engaging, visual documents, not badly lit, badly miked, poorly edited handheld shaky clips just thrown up on the web. We also discourage our clients from driving traffic away from their websites to watch the videos we produce for them. It’s fine to use YouTube as a platform for distributing your business videos, but why would you want your customers to watch them surrounded by cheap stupid amateur videos — or worse, videos produced by your competitors? Learn how to embed your videos directly into your website — and put them on the relevant content page, not all segregated on a “Videos” page. Video is just a channel, not an end in itself. Start using it that way. Your business will be better served!

Steve “@PodcastSteve” Lubetkin
Managing Partner, Lubetkin Global Communications LLC

Sam Simon

I couldn’t agree more Steve. I think the real point to take away from the article is: “…the site [YouTube] is about professionally produced content, repeatable success and creating consistently engaged audiences.”

The “winners” or people who will see real results from video are the ones who create quality content that engages the audience and do this over and over. Sure, the one-off, caught-in-the-moment videos will never go away and more may creep up with the implementation of low-entry video production. But these won’t be the people with long-term success. It will be the brands and producers who create consistent, high quality video who will be able to monetize and find success with their customers.

Matt Keck

I agree that the idea of the viral video is changing because having a viral video has transfromed into a business. If you can land a viral video, you can sell merchandise, get on radio shows, get on television such as Tosh.0, Web Soup, etc. Then the star of the viral video will often attempt to maintain an audience with similar material after its success.
I agree completely with the thought on machinima, and the same goes with the biggest YouTubers. They often get videos with millions of views, but they aren’t the biggest videos of the year. Perhaps because our overall video consumption has risen.


I didn’t get the connection between the title and the article. Hum?

Aimee Davison

I don’t think viral videos will ever “die” because all viral means is a video that has achieved high traffic through exponential sharing.

As our entertainment consumption migrates entirely online, however, I do see a new era of low budget professional content creation emerging that rivals tradional large scale productions in traffic. I am working on being one of those producers on multiple YouTube channels.


Travis Wright

I think they will always be relevant. Some brands can create videos sure, but you can never predict viralocity of a video.

But technology makes it so easy to make videos now. I made a song on my iPhone, and made a video for it, in less than an hour.

So, I think as more people get higher quality mobile phones, the amount of viral videos will increase.

Mosaic Technology

I like the term “”viralocity” and I agree with you that it’s just about impossible to predict or to create from scratch. Who knows why certain videos take off and others don’t.


All part of the great “Lowering of the Bar” we have going on everywhere. If I like crap, then I feel closer to the median. People obsesses with “fail” blogs, etc. I keep expecting to go by McDonalds and see the arches replaced with some Michelin stars. Once the news became info-tainment, there was no counter-point to mediocrity and banality; which somehow sneaked into being “normal”


Absolutely agree. And slapping “HD” on something that you can’t blow up to full screen is another dumbing down of our entertaiment.

People now abuse the phrase viral video and don’t understand what it means to be something that was not necessarily intended for mass consumption from production values to content. “Viral” is not a synonym for “funny” or “homemade”. Viral refers to the explosive sharing with little promotion. A video FEATURED on the yahoo homepage is not “viral”.


“Mobile video” meaning what exactly? Mobile video has as much effect as “laptop video”. Whether it’s a text or email with a link to a video, a shared video is a shared video, and content generation by a mobile phone is just a shorter turnaround on video creation. To say that mobile specifically is some kind of “next level” is just acknowledging that technology for sharing is moving faster. Back in 2003 someone would text me to “go to google and type in X Y and Z” and it was the same sharing process as an email, just a longer time to viewing.

And the faster you can view a video, the faster it burns out from pop culture.

Comments are closed.