Analysis: Phoenix Video Rising

Strange 'Letterman' appearance brought online views, but not just to CBS sites
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When Joaquin Phoenix’s recent Andy Kaufman-esque appearance on Late Show with David Letterman went viral, racking up 7.5 million views in its first week online, CBS Interactive saw an opportunity to generate some ad revenue from the clip.  

It slapped spots for various BlackBerry models including the Curve and Bold in front of the clip on and In a revenue sharing deal with YouTube, a pop-up ad for the new BlackBerry Storm ran with an attendant display ad.

It was an example of new strategies when the whims of the wired public shine on your content. But it was also another reminder that content providers really don’t have any control over how users consume their products. Over half of the streams of Phoenix’s Letterman turn came from embedded players on social networks and blogs, according to CBS Interactive.

“Everybody makes the mistake of thinking that they own the Internet when in effect the Internet owns them,” says Steve Safran, senior vice president of Media 2.0 at Dallas-based media consulting and research company AR&D.

“You don’t’ really know what will go viral,” says Anthony Soohoo, senior vice president and general manager at CBS Interactive.

But by carefully monitoring the dissemination of the clip, the company was able to monetize the content with advertising.

“It’s important that advertisers work on experimentation and work with content providers like us on what’s going to hit,” he says. “More specifically, when it’s related to something that’s premium, it’s important that all of our assets are ready for promotion.”

So while media companies may prefer that viewers watch their content on their web sites, it’s important to also embrace the fact that many of them won’t. For instance, the Phoenix clip has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube. And while there’s a link to on the page, it’s probably not driving a ton of traffic back to the network.

That’s why the skirmish between Hulu and is an example of the moribund territorialism that is increasingly out of step with the new digital reality.

Last week, the News Corp. and NBC Universal-backed Hulu, yanked Fox and NBC shows from CBS-owned According to executives close to the situation, the disagreement stems from’s re-launch in January as a video site and direct competitor to Hulu. claims it has contractual right to air shows like Heroes and 24, but they are currently unavailable on

“You want people to watch the program,” says Safran. “The more widely available you can make the content, the more you’re going to win, it’s really not about making people come to one site or the other. What do you care if they associate your network brand, whatever that means anymore, with the show? Get them to watch the show and the commercial on any platform they want.”


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