Life & Culture

I could make you a YouTube sensation


YouTube is creating a new breed of millionaires. An increasing number of home-videos are being posted on the Google-owned video-sharing website, generating in some cases, six-figure sums for those who post them. Helping to make it happen is Hollywood film producer-cum-entrepreneur Damian Collier. His company, Viral Spiral, which was set up last year, aims to maximise profits made from popular video clips posted online.

Now the world's leading agency for YouTube videos, it manages and represents video owners worldwide, turning them into global brands. Its portfolio includes the "Charlie Bit Me" video, which shows one-year-old Charlie biting his brother's finger. Posted by father Howard Davies-Carr in 2007, it has been viewed more than 400 million times and there is now a "Charlie Bit Me" iPhone app and book series in development.

So, anyone could become a millionaire then thanks to YouTube? "Yes, it's a new way of generating income," says Mr Collier, a former international finance lawyer for Linklaters. "Get a pet (or have a baby) and train either, or both of them, up."

He continues: "Forty-eight hours of new footage are uploaded every second to YouTube so the hit rate of becoming successful can be reasonably small but we are looking at ways of helping people ensure more success, such as becoming involved in some of the YouTube networks that help cross promote, and the technology platforms. It's no different to if you create a television show - you need someone to distribute it for you."

And Mr Collier, 36, set up Viral Spiral to do just that. He runs the company together with business partner - high-profile composer/producer Jeff Wayne, best known for the musical version of the War of The Worlds, which has sold over 15 million copies.

Having trained as a lawyer, completing stints at Linklaters and Latham & Watkins - he also worked at Goldman Sachs - Mr Collier moved into the entertainment world. He has produced independently (through Damian Collier Entertainment) and has collaborated with major record labels including Sony BMG, EMI and Universal Music, plus leading film and television studios such as Paramount Pictures, Fox and Sony Pictures Animation.

He launched Viral Spiral last year but remains the managing director of the Jeff Wayne Music Group, which composes, produces and sources a wide variety of music for uses across all media.

The initial idea behind Viral Spiral was to use the "Charlie Bit Me" boys to promote the War of the Worlds musical version stage tour, but after a conversation with Mr Davies-Carr over tea at The Landmark hotel in London, Mr Collier spotted an opportunity. "He (Davies-Carr) explained that he was being approached by a lot of people wanting to use his video and I explained that licensing and intellectual property were my expertise." Mr Collier agreed to take over the management of the video, helping to license content and protect copyright, and Mr Davies-Carr became Viral Spiral's first client.

"I then worked my way down the YouTube list of viral videos. It was as rudimentary as that." The company now represents more than 1,000 videos including "The Sneezing Baby Panda", "Talking Twin Babies" - who have racked up 68 million hits - and the creators of "Fenton the deer-chasing dog", licensing content to television shows, publishing, television and film executives to promote the clips. "We are pretty much involved in anything that goes viral," he says.

Viral Spiral has negotiated deals for clients to feature in adverts for Coca-Cola, Samsung and Sony PlayStation. Other big brands who have paid out include the BBC, E4, MTV and Comedy Central. Viral Spiral clients have appeared on chat shows such as The Jonathan Ross Show in the UK, and in the US; those hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, Jay Leno and David Letterman.

The company has researchers devoted to constantly sourcing new viral videos.

What makes a successful clip? "I think it's reasonably subjective. Generally a good rule of thumb is if your children or pets do something funny then you have a reasonably good chance of it going viral."

There has been a surge in YouTube videos making the headlines of late be it Jason Russell's "Kony 2012" video about child soldiers in Uganda, which has been viewed by over 100 million people or more recently, Piggy the cat walking head-first down the side of her owner's fridge. Posted last month, it has already been viewed over 800,000 times.

Why the increase? "I think it's probably down to the increase in efficiency of technology and social networking, working in conjunction. You can film anything from your smartphone now, have it formatted and then uploaded within minutes, to YouTube, Facebook or Twitter. People have more access and ease than ever before."

YouTube is the third most visited website in the world with more than three billion videos viewed each day. And with over 1.5 million videos uploaded to the site every day it is not just consumers/home video-makers that are cashing in. Businesses are making it an integral part of their strategy.

"YouTube is now as much as a platform for showcasing businesses as any other social media, it just happens to be video content so one needs something that it audio/visual to make it work."

Property agents are using it to showcase their offerings while the entertainment industry is using it to promote television, films and live shows. "It's just another way of getting the word out.

"It (YouTube) is becoming very popular and no different to Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. When people develop their business plan, then tend to now, as a matter of course, add social networking, and YouTube is a form of that. Inevitably there will be more and more companies that offer some promotion and social networking and business opportunities."

Unsurprising then that Viral Spiral is growing rapidly, with offices in the UK, US and Japan. The Group has received approaches by several media companies on both sides of the Atlantic, which Mr Collier says "have an interest in participating in our company, at various levels."

What does he say to those who question the ethics of using their children or pets to make money? "I get asked all the time about the ethics of children being in viral videos. Ultimately Viral Spiral's role is to ensure that the families are fairly rewarded, and properly protected under contracts (for instance no dubbing/altering of the videos without approval). While it's a parent's choice to make use of videos as they wish, we don't get involved in anything that is exploitative. I am thrilled to say that the vast majority of the parents with whom we work, put all income into their children's education or trust funds. It has truly changed some of their lives, which is desperately rewarding."

Mr Collier is looking at ways of expanding the company, with plans for a You've Been Framed-style television show in the pipeline. He is also considering a move into production and self-creating YouTube content.

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