While most people assumed that online video would try to emulate television-style content as it became more sophisticated, they turned out to be absolutely wrong. In fact, the reverse has occurred. All over traditional television programming, we are seeing a move towards trying to emulate the type of online content that has viral appeal. Look at Jimmy Fallon's segments, John Oliver's four to six minute exposés, and the entire concept of Spike's Lip Sync Battle. Not only are these shows packaging segments to be the right length and style for YouTube and other digital platforms, but they are even trying to emulate one key aspect that viewers love about online video: how genuine it feels.
When a YouTube viewer watches their favorite video blogger or fashion guru, they are not only there for the content, they enjoy the almost behind-the-scenes feel they get, the feeling of being actually connected to the real life of a content creator. That's something we rarely got when watching traditional television, until recently. TV shows are moving towards this style of content not only to capitalize on the huge numbers of online views you can generate through social media and online video platforms, but also because
Casey Patterson, an executive producer of Lip Sync Battle, really believes that how genuine the show feels is crucial to its success, both on television and online. "People love the show because it's a peek into celebrities having a great time," she said, "we're very careful not to over-produce the show because we want the real personalities of the guests to come out." In order to make sure that happens, the producers leave as much creative control in the hands of the celebrity guests as possible. The guests pick their own songs: the ones they perform on Lip Sync Battle are the songs they listen to before going out, or songs by an icon they've always wanted to meet. When Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (who has a 14 year daughter) performed a Taylor Swift hit, it was not the first time he had sung that at the top of his lungs, Patterson told me. Even more surprising, the show has never done a second take of any performance; the celebrities perform as if they're doing it live.
Lip Sync Battle is a perfect example of the new trend in making television more like online content: we are getting a real glimpse into the celebrity personalities we like to watch. That at least partially explains the enormous success Lip Sync Battle has had online, with more than 226 million streams on its YouTube channel. The other part may be that we just love music, comedy, and celebrities.
The trend is nowhere near over. Fallon's YouTube channel is posting more and more of the little games that give you some 'real' moments from celebrity guests, and Lip Sync Battle is ramping up it's ability to give viewers a behind-the-scenes look. For the second season, they've "built a whole second sound stage to expose all the guts of the show. Hair and makeup, wardrobe, even rehearsals," Patterson said. Remember when YouTubers started making second channels to show the guts of their productions? That type of content is being translated to TV (as it has before with features like BBC's Doctor Who Confidential).
There is a danger for TV producers when gunning for online views: there has always been a real concern that online viewership will cannibalize TV viewership, at which point putting content online just isn't worth it. Television generates more advertising revenue, and losing TV viewers isn't worth the low-revenue online traffic. But that hasn't been a problem for Lip Sync Battle, which may signal that the pie-in-the-sky ideal that content creators have been dreaming of is possible: online views actually sending consumers to TV. Sean O'Neill, Spike's SVP of Research, said the online traction has been nothing but additive. The show has brought Spike's female viewership up, brought a whole new audience onto Spike, and their data shows that the viral success of their YouTube channel is certainly not cannibalizing Spike's TV viewership, which has gone up significantly this past year.
Media consumers have learned from online video that they like a genuine, sincere look into the lives of the people they are watching. Behind-the-scenes is a big selling point, but the key is that the actual content offering makes you feel like you're really connected to the person on the screen. Lip Sync Battle is doing that by letting our favorite celebrities perform what they want, how they want. It looks like online content has taught traditional television a lesson.