Web video is finally growing up. The family behind the wildly viral "Charlie Bit My Finger" YouTube video is getting its own professional Web series, according to PaidContent. The 2007 video spawned parody clips, fan sites, mobile apps, and $500,000 in revenue - for starters.
The ferment around infant Charlie's mandibular prowess (and his brother Harry's misfortune) captured the attention of Viral Spiral and Rightster, who are teaming up to produce professional-grade Web videos based on what is now the most widely-viewed amateur video in the history of YouTube.
Whether or not a funny viral video can be transformed into a successful series remains to be seen, but it's an experiment worth undertaking to those looking to monetize Web video. Hopes are high that Charlie's winning performance will translate well into a more formal production. But it may prove tricky. After all, the original video exploded after Howard Davies-Carr, the boys' father, uploaded it to share with relatives. That this authentic, adorable moment between two brothers accidentally captured the attention of millions of Web viewers may have simply been a byproduct of the video's spontaneous nature. That success may or may not be something that can be replicated under professional lighting in front of real cameras.
It's not the first time a Web content phenomenon has resulted in a foray into more professionally-produced mass media. Few can forget lonelygirl15, the YouTube-based "video blogger" who was outed as an actress and went on to star in a scripted Web series. Over the years, popular Tumblr blogs have been turned into books and the Shit My Dad Says Twitter account landed on CBS as a sitcom in 2010. The next year, that show was canceled, demonstrating that the transition from new media sensation to old media hit doesn't always go smoothly.
The Web's Premium Video Push
News of the Charlie Bit My Finger video series comes at a pivotal time in online video. YouTube itself has been investing heavily in original, TV-quality content, announcing just this morning plans to add 50 new channels to its original line-up. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have been making similar moves toward content that rivals television in quality and, they hope, value to advertisers. Hulu kicked off 2012 by investing $200 million in original programming. In Februrary, the online TV service premiered "Battleground," its first scripted, original TV series just as Netflix launched a Web-only drama called "Lilyhammer." Since then, the list of forthcoming original programs from the likes of Hulu, Netflix and YouTube has grown on what feels like a monthly basis. Next year, the model will face an interesting test when the beloved "Arrested Development" returns for a long-awaited new season, not on Fox where it originally aired, but exclusively on Netflix.
This premium Web TV movement aims to slowly build itself into a counterweight to the traditional pay TV business model of cable and satellite, which has been slow to unravel under the weight of pressure from the rise of Internet-fueled cord cutting. Web-first TV is still a relatively young trend, with tech companies only beginning to funnel cash into original content initiatives. It may be sometime before we know whether the new model has legs, but Internet companies are betting big on the prospect that things will work out. Charlie, for one, is banking on it.