A fast track to fame and fortune but who profits and who pays the price?
The huge online community that YouTube has secured offers a supposedly alternative route to fame and stardom, whether it be through being filmed biting your brother, getting your cat to play a keyboard or singing a simple song about being 13 and wanting to go out at a weekend and get really drunk. But the recent Rebecca Black phenomenon shows how, in spite of over 65 million views on the broadcasting site, these communities have more moneymaking opportunities than first meets the eye. A company called ARK Music was paid by Black’s parents for the chance to make their daughter a social media sensation led her to experience the “omg you suck” YouTube backlash in droves.
The success of her song (if you can call it that) “Friday” shows how enterprising companies (in this case ARK Music) can sell a new social networking dream and make a quick $2,000.
But no one could have foreseen the success that would come from being so bad. Even BBC News, usually concerned with higher matters, called it “the worst song in history” in uncharacteristic fervour. Thousands of YouTube and Twitter posts list widespread glee and disgust in equal measure at Black’s lack of talent, with the extended media coverage from the celebrity blogging scene ultimately resulting in online threats of violence. YouTube now use moderation to try and curb some of these comments, but the sheer volume posted on the video (over 1.1 million in less than a month) must be tricky for even the copious employees at YouTube to moderate.
But after the start of Black’s “success”, ARK hired her a publicist, and several appearances on high-profile US talk shows and a public breakdown on Good Morning America have followed, with ARK reaping profits from the iTunes download-only version of the single. Although Black will probably make her parents’ money back, as well as a lot more to boot, what will the effects of this “fame” be? This shows the dark side of popular online communities, where cyberbullying equals more hits and more money. And for companies like ARK, it is a new and potentially lucrative market to enter into. YouTube certainly has a tough job on its hands, moderating abuse when millions of hits and comments can spring up on one video, seemingly from nowhere.