When YouTube Just Isn’t Enough

The past weekend was chocked full of a media coverage of America’s “Balloon Boy”. The past four days saw a story turn from a two hour chase of a runaway balloon and the finding of a six year old safe at home to a hoax hatched to land a family on a TV reality show. Whatever the story, it does beg the question, “When is YouTube not enough?”

It’s obvious that the free and easy access to user generated content, whether that be blogs, photos, audio or video, serves the narcissism in all of us. But for some who want to be “on TV” the small screen of on line video just isn’t enough to satisfy the need to be in the spotlight. It also should say a lot to those in television that they are the still the big leagues, or bigger screen, of public display. Good news for a medium that worries about it’s future.

Take the case of Richard Heene (and I’m just supposin’ here since as of this writing there are officially no charges filed against the Heene family. Though the odd history of Mr. Heene’s media exploits does make it quite easy to assume his guilt…I know I have.) Here is a guy who has posted plenty of YouTube videos. Everything from “science programs” to rants about Hilary Clinton or Britney to his kids rap video.

That exposure on line doesn’t appear to have been enough. No, he wanted to be on the “bigger screen”. He managed to get himself and his wife on Wife Swap, a show that really is YouTube on TV.

That appears to have only whet his appetite for video infamy. One episode of public embarrassment is nothing compared to continuous coverage by every cable or news network with easy access to a feed from a helicopter. The key to secure such video creamy goodness? A child. And Mr. Heene had three. We’re all aware of the success of that strategy. It was success after all, with entire chunks of TV programming still being devoted to the Heenes.

In reality we are all responsible for this rather pitiful display, but don’t beat yourself up. We have the perfect structure for enabling the video narcissist in all of us. A media landscape that includes multiple 24 hour cable outlets and networks that struggle to draw viewers from a myriad of new outlets that are hungry for content that can help them do that. In fact, many of these outlets are more often looking to YouTube for content. Rarely does the the Today show let a day go by without featuring some sort of on line viral phenomenon, the Wedding Dance and Lion Reunion are just a sample, and we eat it up.

We watch it so much that we guarantee that there will be plenty more to come. Add to that all those companies that are asking, “How can we make a viral video?” and there’s a good chance it will be well staged, manufactured, and distributed while making money for somebody.

Speaking of money, it seems that the reason behind the “Balloon Boy” incident was to secure a reality show deal for the Heene family, something one would assume carried a chance to earn Jon and Kate type money. To bad Mr. Heene didn’t think this through a bit more. A well-placed logo on his balloon would have netted him tidy bit of dough.

Then again, I don’t think that’s what he’s in it for. Do you?