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Susan Boyle: The Unmonetizable YouTube Phenomenon

Finally, a story that explains how it is that the singing phenomenon, and YouTube sensation Susan Boyle hasn't been reaping monetary rewards above and beyond the normal for the companies who produce "Britain's Got Talent," the British talent show on which she made her name. To me, this story in The New York Times is a classic tale of old methods of media monetization not being able to change their models fast enough to capitalize on the speed with which content can catch fire in the digital environment; everyone involved, from FremantleMedia Productions, which holds the program's international rights, to ITV, the company that broadcasts the show, to YouTube and the advertisers who haven't been banging down doors to get their brand on Susan Boyle's YouTube clips ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Apparently, YouTube and Fremantle, one of the show's three production companies, failed to come to terms over an advertising agreement before this season, and before it became clear that this year, "Britain's Got Talent" would become an international phenomenon. Those parties are now back in negotiation, the story says, but why, why can't they come to a deal? In quantitative terms, by not coming to a deal, YouTube and Fremantle have left the money from about 220 million video streams on the table, and that number will only increase as the show heads into the finals this coming weekend. Best they've been able to do, as you can see above, is put an overlay ad pointing people to the "Britain's Got Talent" YouTube channel on unofficial clips of the show posted by fans. Yes, boys and girls, it's a lousy house ad!

What's most perplexing to me in this whole situation is YouTube, a company that consistently leaves me scratching my head when it comes to the issue of making money. While it's true that the Susan Boyle phenomenon is unprecedented, a large part of YouTube's business model should be built around monetizing the suddenly popular -- that's what the site is best at, for chrissake! Not all of its popular content would please an advertiser, but a fairy tale like Susan Boyle obviously has broad appeal.

As a quick aside, the story I still haven't seen is why some network in the U.S. hasn't picked up the last few episodes of the show. Last night was apparently the semi-final, in which Boyle sang "Memories" from Cats. Already, that clip has hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. On the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., would seem like a better option to go with a special presentation "Britain's Got Talent" than a rerun. Just sayin'.

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