Video: Viral videos -- time to make money

Besides collecting 15 minutes of fame after a video goes viral, many YouTube stars have the potential to collect a real paycheck too. CNET's Kara Tsuboi reports on the business of making a viral video and how one silly idea can change the course of a career, and bank account, forever.

It's a living. Screenshot by CNET

I love a good viral video. Who doesn't? In preparing to work on this video and blog post, I decided to rewatch some oldies but goodies. JK Wedding Entrance Dance, anyone? I also made my way through a list of top click-earners on YouTube to find some I might have missed from a few years ago. Six minutes of Judson Laipply showing us the Evolution of Dance was supremely entertaining and I could easily see why it has earned all 209,558,808 views. And then there's the wondrous 17 seconds of a tiny baby panda's gigantic sneeze that more than 150-million people have seen. I've got to remember to forward that to my mom. For me, the commonality of all of these viral clips was a certain emotion they evoked. I found myself smiling, with the occasional tear in my eye, during this entire "research" session.

According to viral video specialist Stephen Voltz, that tug of emotion is one of a handful of criteria that can make a video truly memorable and sharable: "There are really four things that will make a video go viral. Be true. Don't fake it. You need to be time efficient, don't waste my time, get right down to business. You need to do something unforgettable, something people haven't seen before. And then finally, ultimately, it's all about humanity."

And Voltz would know a little something about viral video success. Several years ago, he and his business partner, Fritz Grobe, started playing around with the chemical reaction between Mentos and Diet Coke. If you've been on the Internet sometime in the last seven years, you've probably seen what happens. The duo made a 3-minute video of the soda geysers and posted it online, and within two days, it had been forwarded around the globe and over to the desk of a David Letterman show producer. By now, they estimate that more than 100 million people have seen that initial video.

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Besides an appearance on Letterman and other various talk shows, the team earned more than $30,000 from that first video. That seed money has led to more video experiments and partnerships with major companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Office Max. Six months into this online superstardom, Voltz decided to step aside from his 20-year career as a trial attorney to focus on video production full time. "I'm not making the same money as a lawyer, but it's a lot more fun. It's actually very close to the street performing I wanted to do when I was a kid. It's just a different corner and more people can see it," says Voltz.

Voltz and Grobe have recently penned the book "The Viral Video Manifesto" to share their experiences and offer tips for aspiring video makers. Besides the four criteria that contribute to a successful video, they remind people to keep it simple: "Don't be tempted to overproduce it. It's very tempting to use the techniques of television on a video that you want to go viral. And that usually will kill it."

Obviously, following the viral recipe to the letter does not insure that one will have a successful clip, let alone make any money. And the number of people who have earned a dime from a YouTube clip represents a miniscule fraction of the total users on the site. But keep trying. The rest of us will enjoy watching...and will hopefully pass along your videos to share. Now, back to that OK Go video....

About the author

Kara Tsuboi has covered technology news for CNET and CBS Interactive for nearly seven years. From cutting edge robotics at NASA to the hottest TVs at CES to Apple events in San Francisco, Kara has reported on it all. In addition to daily news, twice every week her "Tech Minutes" are broadcast to CBS TV stations across the country.

 

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