What can Fred teach us about video?

by Mathew on November 14, 2008 · 10 comments

According to at least one account, the big star of the NewTeeVee Live conference — put on by the gang at GigaOm — wasn’t the CEO of Hulu, or the head of Netflix, or even alterna-star Xeni Jardin of Boing Boing. It was 15-year-old video artist Lucas Cruikshank, otherwise known simply as “Fred.” Lucas was a bored teen somewhere in Nebraska when he decided to parody some of the self-obsessed video bloggers on YouTube and came up with the persona of Fred, a hyperactive pre-teen who speaks in an incredibly annoying, squeaky voice. He is a bona fide YouTube superstar.

While musicians and comedians with years of training and talent are desperately trying to get more views for their videos on YouTube, the phenomenon known as Fred records a video of himself leaning into the camera and making faces while sounding like one of the Chipmunks and gets more than a million views. The video I’ve embedded here has more than 11 million, and that’s after less than four months. His latest video has only been up for a day — a single day — and already has more than 400,000 views, and the one before that (two weeks old) has 2 million. His is the most subscribed channel on YouTube and has more than 125 million views in total. Next up: product placement and celebrity cameos.

Watching Fred’s videos is one of those things that separates adults from kids, just like Ren & Stimpy or any one of a dozen annoying and yet hilarious cartoon shows. As Cruikshank says in one of his interviews, viewers almost instantly either love Fred or they hate him — and no doubt plenty of older viewers will argue that all Fred’s success proves is that any old piece of crap can get millions of views. I disagree. Young Lucas has done one thing that even big networks do fairly infrequently: he has tapped directly into the heart of his target market, which is probably easier for him because he is the target market. But he is also obsessive and passionate, and as Jason Kilar of Hulu says, that is a big part of being a success.

But Lucas is also a smart video producer, whether he does it intentionally or not. His clips are short, they aren’t exactly complicated, he builds loyalty by using the same routines or catch-phrases, and he times the release of new videos for when his fan base gets out of school. That’s smart. Annoying he may be, but he is clearly far from dumb. Whether he can translate any of his popularity into a real business without irritating his fans remains to be seen, but if I worked at Nickelodeon or Teletoon or some place like that, I would get him in to teach my staff about how to play this game.

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