The Business Of Memes (Or Lack Thereof)

 On April 2, 2008, the country of Canada went on strike.

Tired of being mocked -- on Canada Appreciation Day, no less! -- the good citizens of Canada decided to show the world just how bad things would be without them. And no one was hit harder by the strike than Kyle, Stan, Cartman and Butters from South Park, Colo. The boys were forced to watch Terrance and Phillip reruns until they were no longer funny

Desperate, they called Stephen Abootman to get him to call off the strike, and Abootman was happy to comply -- if the boys raised a bunch of money on the Internet and gave it to Canada.

Fortunately, Butters’ YouToob video was a smash hit, so the boys went off to the Department of Internet Money to collect their Internet income. As they took a number and settled in, though, they were surprised to find themselves sharing the waiting room with such Web superstars as Numa Numa, Tron Guy, and Sneezing Panda Cub.



Ultimately, Butters got paid for his video: ten million theoretical dollars, all of which he gave to Canada. And Kyle, of course, learned a valuable lesson: "Yeah, but you know, I learned something today. 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 producers to forego their fair value in more traditional media."

A few years have gone by since then, and the Internet certainly has matured as a distribution mechanism. But for meme-creators like Randall, narrator of that honey badger video, YouTube fame is still about the promise of future revenue, online or otherwise. Millions of views on YouTube still only make you a theoretical millionaire, so Randall is left seeking ways of leveraging his new brand platform -- as evidenced by this tidbit from yesterday’s Total Licensing Weekly: “Randall's Honey Badger is loose and ready for licensing. Randall's Honey Badger captured more than 32 million viewers on YouTube, and Randall's narration has spawned a myriad of catchphrases. The character-driven brand is featured in the national Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin' TV campaign, is on a national book tour with Honey Badger Don't Care, and is recognized by Advertising Age in America's Hottest Brands. Randall's Honey Badger is looking for licensing partners in apparel, board games, interactive games, social expression, e-cards, plush, and toys.”

Randall is smart to seek monetization channels, and I wish him luck at doing so. Typically, being an Internet sensation is as closely correlated with long-term success as being a child star -- that is to say, not very. For every Justin Bieber leveraging his YouTube videos to a multimillion-dollar brand, there are a dozen Antoine Dodsons leveraging their YouTube videos to a multithousand-dollar brand, and millions not leveraging their YouTube videos at all.

While our websites go black and our politicians debate fair use, it’s worth remembering just how much of the business of content is still controlled by Big Media. If you’re hoping for your video to go viral, you’d better have a plan for how you’re going to benefit from that lightning strike.

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