My kids turned me on to “Charlie The Unicorn” shortly after it made its debut on youtube several years ago. Like most user generated content, Charlie, a flash animated 2D short, was made on a shoestring and the production values reflect that. Still, the work is smart, funny and quotable in the vein of Caddyshack and The Simpsons.
Charlie has been viewed over 35 million times worldwide and spawned a sequel.
Still, I wasn’t really intrigued until I visited Hot Topic, a teen-oriented store in my local mall, and spotted Charlie merchandise.
Plenty of talented (and not so talented) folks make shorts and distribute them on youtube. Far fewer generate millions of views or eyeballs; and only a handful of those successfully make the jump to ancillary exploitation.
Whether Charlie’s creator is making meaningful revenues isn’t really the point (nor is the aesthetic value of such a work).
Charlie’s transition from youtube short to retail merchandise represents nothing less than a sea change in the ability of a single content creator to leverage the internet and its potential access to millions to build a following and potentially profit from ancillary and derivative exploitation of content without the need or prohibitive expense of traditional distribution channels.
It means that self-distribution is now a meaningful and sustainable distribution alternative and will become even more so as internet based distribution (e.g., faster downloads) matures.
It means that traditional distributors better figure out how to stay relevant (hint: content marketing not content distribution) or get out of the way.
Just ask the people who (used to) work in the music business.