Recently Videogum did a little deep dive into the world of viral videos, and came back with some interesting findings. It seems that 2006 was the peak year for dumb mashups, terrible singers, heartwarming lion hugs, and all manner of other popular YouTube crap (basically all those people that got killed on that one episode of South Park). So what's happened since then? Where have all the virals gone? Well, we think they're kinda dead, and after the jump we'll tell you why.
That Was Funny The First 100 Times What was the turnaround time between everyone marveling at newfangled email technologies and then complaining about the whole thing? Not very long, I don't think. And the same definitely applies to viral videos. At first YouTube was this great, vast landscape of 3-minute-long time wasters that were good for a chuckle and a "look what I found!" self-satisfied email to friends. Now? The minute you hear that term, "viral video," it makes you think of something grainy and shaky-camera'd, made by some festering nerd who would probably harrass you endlessly if you double-crossed him. People are too savvy with the internet at this point to still be enchanted by its simple, chintzy magicks. YouTube is used more practically now, it's more functional—and those dancing, lightsaber-waving fat kids have been reduced to mostly-forgotten Coney Island freakshow diversions.
Let's Get Cynical, Cynical As is the case with most phenomena, corporate interests were pretty quick to pick up the scent and glom on to viralness for their own nefarious gains. The idea of a viral ad campaign must have seemed pretty hip and edgy when the first smartass marketing kid pitched it at some meeting, but it quickly became irksome and frustrating and just too damn much. That Russian guy trashing his office? Fake. The cellphone popcorn thing? Fake. Heck, even "Will It Blend" is, actually, advertising a blender. It's gotten to the point that people don't trust videos to be anything but viral marketing for something, to paraphrase our cynical initial reaction to the Montauk Monster photo. The marketing companies overplayed their hands on this one, taking what could have been occasionally fun extra components to more mainstream ad campaigns and just overdoing it to death. Like so much else in this developing world. (Remember when people actually opened spam mail? OK, maybe that never actually happened).
Turn On the TV, I Mean the Computer People watch a lot of TV on the computer. I mean, not a ton. Not enough to ruin broadcast television (yet). But, like, people watch Hulu and things on iTunes and various networks' websites, and that stuff is much better produced than, like, that YouTube video where that one dude falls down. Virals were a distraction from other stuff on the computer, and now virals have just become that stuff on the computer. So what distracts us from that? Television! On, um, the computer. This may be more crackpot theory than tested technoanthropology, but it stands to reason that the slicker (and freer) real filmed internet content gets, the less relevance and urgency the amateur stuff will have. This is not to say that people aren't watching viral videos. I mean, YouTube is totally super popular and there are still funny WTF videos on the onlines. But lately I've noticed that it's like bizarro foreign commercials and things of that ilk. The garage-made YouTube sensation may be a thing of the distant, two-year-old past. Can't say I'm sad to see it go.