In Depth

Who is Really Watching?

I don’t dispute that “Leave Britney Alone” and “I’m Fukin Matt Damon” are now part of the cultural consciousness. I don’t disagree that millions of Americans—ordinary, average Americans who don’t have a vested business interest in new media—watched those videos and other viral sensations.

I buy that YouTube is 100% mainstream. After all, comScore tells us that more than ¾ of the total U.S. Internet audience watched online video in January and about one-third of the 9.8 billion videos viewed online that month were watched on YouTube.

They were watched by regular people like my brother and your mom and the guy who sold you a Diet Coke at the Seven-Eleven this morning.

But what about the rest of the online videos? The Web series, the professionally produced shows, the ones with scripts and actors? Yes, I know more than 4 million people have watched “The Guild” on YouTube and that “Ask a Ninja” draws 2 to 3 million unique viewers to Askaninja.com each month. Given those numbers, it’s safe to say my brother, your mom and the guy at the corner store are among those viewers.

But for most of the other Web series, I have this sneaking suspicion that it might just be us watching. And by us I mean reporters, new media producers, online video creators, venture capitalists, talent agents, Internet TV technologists, and so on.

So if a fair number of the views are coming from our little incestuous group of fellow new media Kool-Aid drinkers then is online video just one big echo chamber? Are any of these shows—“Indy Mogul,” “DadLabs,” “EpicFu,” “Moblogic”—resonating among regular people?

I raised this question on “This Week in Media,” a weekly audio podcast I contribute to along with several other new media producers and creators. One of the answers was: perhaps it is the same core group of people watching most of these shows, but perhaps those are the people advertisers most want to reach. Perhaps the echo chamber consists of 18- to 34-year-olds and affluent city dwellers with plenty of disposable income to spend.

If that’s the case, then maybe the echo chamber isn’t such a bad thing.

So here are my questions to you:

1. Is online video viewership an echo chamber right now?
2. If it is, will Web series will reach the same level of ubiquity as the most popular viral videos?
3. Or is online video shaping up like traditional TV where the Sarah Silverman-Matt Damon videos are the “American Idols” of Web video and the “Indy Moguls” are the G4s?