The internet is full of attention-seeking babies, crying out to the world for attention in their quest for stardom. YouTube is the main offender. The site which gives the world not just a voice, but a face to go with it, can at times be like the audition queue for Britain’s Got Talent. Eccentric desperation is there in abundance; talent less so.
However, sometimes talent is not required so much as a knack for capturing a moment that strikes a chord with people. Call it a skill, blind luck, fate or what you will, but Briton Howard Davies-Carr has it. Heard of him? No? How about the phrase “Charlie bit my finger”? Ah, there you go.
Howard is Charlie’s dad and was behind the camera at the moment the baby clamped his fledgling gnashers around his three-year-old brother Harry’s index finger.
That moment of innocent, playful violence and the one minute YouTube upload which followed has had over 200 million views. Apart from Lady Gaga, that makes Charlie and Harry the most viewed people in YouTube’s history. As with Shit My Dad Says, becoming a global sensation was never the plan.
“I only put it on YouTube to show the boys’ godfather, who’s American,” Howard tells us. “Then my family and colleagues wanted to see it and it became too much of a hassle to keep it private. Just as I was about to take it down, I noticed that someone had uploaded a remake and that views had grown from hundreds to thousands. After that, the views doubled daily, and by Christmas 2007 it had reached one million views. It had gone viral.”
What does it take for something to go viral? Amidst everything that YouTube has to offer, how does a video so innocuous, unlaced with search-friendly tags, without a marketing strategy and featuring no known personalities, spiral to the point where it has been viewed 200 million times, spawning countless re-enactments and tributes?
Howard’s break came when someone posted the clip video on CollegeHumor.com, a small but hugely influential web video channel Stateside. From there links spread across the world. Subsequent videos on Howard’s channel have generated tens of millions of views, although of course none has come near the original.
While Twitter fame won’t make you any cash directly, YouTube fame is a different story. The YouTube Partner Program is the reason today’s viral stars are getting more than star ratings and “LOL” comments for their endeavours.
The scheme pays uploaders a small sum per video view for the privilege of selling ads on the channels and in-video. Partners are contractually forbidden to reveal the sums involved, but informed estimates vary from $0.30 (20p) all the way up to $2.50 (£1.60) per 1,000 views. Hence Howard’s YouTube channel, which has had just shy of 290 million views, could have earned somewhere between £58,000 and £460,000. Not a bad little earner at all.
Howard’s giving nothing away: “I’ve always tried not to talk about the money we’ve earned, because there’s always a negative connotation. The reality is that if we wanted to, we could potentially give up what we’re doing, but it’s not in our nature to do that.
“My wife and I are very much of the view that the money earned by the boys is their money. It’s not for everyday living.”
The family keeps their earnings up by posting new content to the channel every couple of months. As well as that, the boys have an agent and are shooting some promotional videos. Surely the next logical step for Britain’s most famous toddlers would be a reality show?
“There have been offers,” Howard sighs, “but I’ve cut everything off very quickly. I set myself some guidelines quite early on and I didn’t want to have anything that was intrusive to the children. You watch those fly-on-the-wall programmes like Big Brother and you think, ‘we just don’t want to do that’.
“With every family, there are good days and bad days. Now, everyone sees the good moments because I control the content. I don’t want people to see Charlie waking up, feeling a bit grumpy and having a go at someone.”
Despite being a very reluctant YouTube star, Howard has still faced accusations of exploiting his children and had to put up with the welldocumented dark side of YouTube. “If I could turn the clock back three years, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” he admits. “I am exposed to parts of society that are not very nice. The comments of trolls and haters and requests for photos are generally something I have to ignore.”
Capturing a special, finger-biting moment on camera and relying on the content to speak for itself is one way to make a
living from YouTube, but for the smart, web-savvy businessman there are more sophisticated ways to work the system.
Harry and Charlie have 100,000 subscribers. Ryan Higa, who goes under the nom de YouTube NigaHiga, has 2.6 million, making his the most popular channel on YouTube. Ryan is a video blogger; not a particularly funny or interesting one, the unkind might say, but undeniably one who’s mastered the art of social networking.
He pushes his content on Twitter and Facebook, spends a lot of time encouraging subscribers and linking back to influential channels. The result? Around 15 million views per video and a dumper truck full of cash. Oh, and apparently an ego big enough to ignore an interview request from T3. Imagine that.