Underground Film Journal
More » Online Cinema

Video Killed The Video Star

[NOTE: Video has since been removed from the Internet.]

Like the way Spaceballs came out four years after Return of the Jedi — you know, in that “kinda late, but still pretty funny” way — underground filmmaker Neil Ira Needleman has posted up this handy, educational video explaining exactly what “viral video” is. The video is called What Is Viral Video?.

I’m probably personally a little extra tickled by this video after having worked professionally for two websites that included viral videos in their business plans. One of those sites dropped into the dustbin of Internet history, while the other got morphed into a similar, but different site. The viral video racket is a difficult one to make a go of.

However, I don’t necessarily agree with Needleman’s thesis that the term “viral video” was coined by marketing people, although they certainly tried to capitalize on it. For awhile at IFILM, there was almost a constant barrage of big companies intentionally producing videos they desperately hoped would catch on like wildfire. Of course, the problem with viral video was always that it was the unexpected video that hit big and that’s the reason they got passed around — because viewers couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Manufacturing virals always seemed futile and the finished products always ranged from the “meh, it’s ok” to the “nobody in their right mind is going to watch this even for 20 seconds.”

That was all in the pre-YouTube era, too. The proliferation of video sites today, from the ubiquitous YouTube to sites like Blip.tv, Vimeo, MySpace TV, Facebook video and on and on, seems to have killed the chance for somebody to become an instantaneous Internet video “star.” There’s so much video being uploaded that appeals to so many different niche tastes, it’s tough to see something breaking through to become a general audience phenomenon like the Numa Numa guy, the Star Wars Kid or the Little Superstar did. The last genuinely explosive viral I can think of was Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell’s Chronicles of Narnia rap, which, after lighting up every video site imaginable for a day, was pulled from circulation by NBC creating an era of corporate entertainment companies hoping for viral videos — as long as those videos drew audiences to their own sites.

But what’s also interesting, and kind of ironic in a way, is that just like there’s underground “film,” there’s also a whole world of underground online video that experiments with form and format that has trouble crossing over to mainstream appeal. You’d think an underground video audience could grow to a decent sustainable size since the videos are so easy to find — unlike with film audiences that are limited to theater bookings — but still it’s a tough racket to get going in.

(P.S. Neeleman’s video found via the site Flicker.)