Is "Fred" dead? In the latest ranking of the most popular Web shows, hyper-obnoxious YouTube sensation "Fred" has been knocked from its perch atop the rankings by adult-themed animated series "Happy Tree Friends."
Viewership of "Fred" episodes fell 26% to 16 million views in October as the series tumbled from the top spot for the first time since Mashable and video analytics firm Visible Measures began posting the top 10 Webisodes in August.
By contrast, "Happy Tree Friends," which Mashable describes as "extremely violent" and similar to The Simpsons cartoon-within-a cartoon, "The Itchy & Scratchy Show," surged to nearly 20 million views on the strength of a strong adult following.
CollegeHumor also had a strong showing in October, placing three comedy series in the top 10 -- "Jake & Amir," "Hardly Working," and "POV." But is the rise of these new shows merely a temporary setback for "Fred," the squeaky-voiced, dysfunctional six-year-old portrayed by Nebraska teen Lucas Cruikshank? Or is his star slowly dimming?
Visible Measures found that "Fred" hit a peak in March with 40.6 million views, and that the monthly totals have declined each month since.
Data from TubeMogul, another video measurement service, showed a similar pattern, with "Fred" sliding from a high of 37 million views in February to 13.5 million in October -- a 64% plunge. (Visible Measure's figures are somewhat higher because its True Reach methodology counts not only views from original sources, but also user-generated placements including spoofs, mashups and parodies posted online.) Comments on Fred videos were also down 71% since February.
While the show maintained views in the 20 to 22 million range from May to August, they dropped to 15 million in September, and again last month.
"The novelty is definitely wearing off," said David Burch, TubeMogul's marketing manager, of the "Fred" phenomenon. "The fact that Fred looks more like a teenager now than a little kid probably isn't helping him either, especially given the fact that 49.9% of his audience is under 15 years old."
Matthew Fiorentino, a marketing analyst at Visible Measures, wasn't quite as ready to write "Fred" off. Even if the show's audience has diminished, it still rates among the most-watched Web programs and ranks as the second-most-popular YouTube channel of all time, with nearly 1.5 million subscribers.
Earlier this year, Eileen Naughton, director of media platforms for Google, called "Fred" the "most valuable real estate" on YouTube, and said Cruikshank was commanding "seven-figures" in sponsorship advertising.
That may be enough for "Fred" to retire on. Cruikshank plans to wrap up the series when its third season ends next summer and move on with his acting career, according to his Wikipedia entry. A direct-to-DVD "Fred" movie is planned for release next summer for fans who can't get enough of the kooky character.