When we reflected on the "Star Wars Kid" phenomenon four years ago we may have seemed a little far-sighted to be talking about average people becoming content producers who could create global hits virally through social media. I noticed a clip in YouTube today coming up next to one that a friend had sent me that underscores just how powerful the trend towards everyday people cutting their own channels to fame and fortune has become. What I found in that list of links was the new hit song and video "My Box in a Box", dreamed up by some folks in Philadelphia, PA in response to a Saturday Night Live parody (explicit lyrics).
MBIAB marries pop music with a video lip-synced by someone who happened to be available for video production. The video hit YouTube about a month ago and has had over 1.3 million downloads. It sells over at Music Freedom for 79 cents, where it became the number one song sold through the download service. There's a MBIAB weblog, of course, as well as a MySpace page a Wikipedia entry and a Second Life avatar. In the works: a book? The actual box used in the video was sold on eBay for $1,500, with proceeds donated to charities. Radio stations are playing the song and guest appearances on MSNBC have not hurt the phenomenon's popularity:
Compared to the millions that media companies are making off of their own stable of stars MBIAB is a tiny thing, but it's these kinds of phenomena that will add up over time and define the core of the content industry as a whole. While music companies and other content licensors are wringing their hands over DRM and other "how to we keep the old model working" concerns all of the infrastructure to create, distribute, popularize, monetize and merchandise media through online content services are all in place and working quite well - albeit with a very different definition of success.
It's not as if these things haven't been done reasonably well in the past: looking at the heyday of an earlier generation of pop stars such as Buddy Holly and Loretta Lynn the entertainment industry has strayed far from its ability to develop "long tail" content into major hits. Instead mass media has evolved into a hyper-tuned model for squeezing out every last drop of revenues and public interest from the most narrow of hits vehicles - call it top four instead of top 40. With so many different channels and contexts through which to develop the value of content most media companies are spinning their wheels trying to build walled gardens of pampered stars whose endearing qualities are oftentimes about the same as anyone else's, even if their lifestyles aren't. Thanks, MBIAB crew, for showing the way to effective monetization models - and thanks ever so much for putting your box in a box.