Like more than 70 million people worldwide, I just watched they “Kony 2012” video on YouTube. It’s powerful, engaging and more than worth the time. If you haven’t seen it, you owe it to yourself to spend the 29 minutes.
What can we learn from Jason Russell’s video? Too many things to count. But let me connect a few dots in the world of new media.
For perspective, “American Idol”, TV’s most popular show, reaches 12 million viewers on a typical night. It’s all about entertainment and it’s in its twelfth season. Kony 2012 is a gut-wrenching expose of Joseph Kony, a Ugandan warlord who abducts kids and turns them into sex slaves and soldiers in his rebel army. Documentary producer Russell has reached a massive audience with a serious message by leveraging the power of social media. His goal: to shine the spotlight of truth on Kony and provoke the international community to stop this criminal.
Russell is a great storyteller, effective communicator and social activist with justice in his sights. But imagine for a moment that his strategy is used for less lofty goals. Like selling entertainment.
For example, a producer or production company creates the pilot for a TV show. But rather than sell it to a network, it’s posted on YouTube. It goes viral and builds dramatic interest in the new show and its characters.
Then, teases for other episodes in the series appear on YouTube and Facebook, directing viewers to a Web site where they can pay per view. In Jason Russell’s case, if only 10 percent of his current audience decides to pay to watch the second episode, that would be more than 7 million viewers. And any money, let’s say a buck a show, would go directly to him and his cause.
So, I ask you, in the future, why will creators go to the networks or studios with their scripts? Some will need corporate Hollywood to underwrite their productions. However, in many other cases, private investors could play that role. With on-demand viewing and streaming video, the producer no longer needs a syndicator or regular time slot on a cable network. They simply need an audience that is willing to pay or sponsors who will pony up the dough to reach an established audience. And with Web TV, you don’t need Nielsen to monitor your ratings. You can count hits automatically, record how long people stay with a program and where they go when they’re done.
In fact, you don’t even need the likes of Netflix to carry your show. That streaming service is in peril, as their contracts with the movie studios are running out in the next couple of years. Soon Hollywood’s moguls will be demanding billions, not millions for the rights to stream their movies on the Web. Giants with deep pockets, like Google and Amazon, may gobble up that territory. As the recession wanes, the value of content is coming back.
So, once again, the creative mind is king. Unless Netflix, the networks and their kind pay to partner with content developers, they will soon become empty pipelines.
Jason Russell’s noble Facebook crusade is attempting to liberate Africa’s children. In the meantime, he may have empowered artists, worldwide.