Repurposing the Web


"We thought we could make money on the Internet. But while the Internet is new and exciting for creative people, it hasn't matured as a distribution mechanism to the extent that one should trade real and immediate opportunities for income for the promise of future online revenue. It will be a few years before digital distribution of media on the Internet can be monetized to the extent that necessitates content providers to forgo their fair value in more traditional media."
Thus spoke Kyle Broflovski, one of the kids on South Park, who, along with his friends, spent an episode trying and failing to get rich by making a viral video. The fourth graders at South Park Elementary learned a lesson that many others have not: The achievement of viral status on the Internet -- a rare enough event in itself-seldom leads to wealth.

But some people are making money on viral videos and they're doing it old school style: repurposing the content of the new digital media into programming delivered on traditional broadcast and cable channels. This emerging new television genre rips content from the Internet, adds a comic host to offer up a few wisecracks and makes money the old-fashioned way -- by padding the show with commercials. The latest, Smash Cuts, just debuted on the CW affiliated stations with a press release promise that it "will capitalize on the popularity of viral videos on the Web and bring them to television in a fast-paced, funny, and addicting format."

It didn't take long, of course, for traditional TV venues to realize that the online video phenomenon was a cheap way to fill airtime. Back in January 2006, less than a year after the launch of YouTube, VH1 introduced Web Junk 20, a clip show that searched the Internet, as it proudly proclaimed, "for the best junk." In February of that same year, Bravo premiered Outrageous and Contagious, a TV series that promised to bring us "the most astounding, the most resounding, the most confounding viral videos." Bravo's press release announced that "viral videos are the next generation of entertainment content and have only been available through the Web until now."

A parade of similar shows followed, including the CW's Online Nation, Comedy Central's Tosh.0 and G4's Web Soup. In 2007, ABC even adapted the idea to the newsmagazine format with I-Caught, a mix of feature stories and investigative reports.

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