When a Video Goes Viral

We talked to Newhouse faculty Jeff Passetti about his viral video, companies that license content, and why he thinks his video made it big.

Communications@Syracuse: Tell us a bit about your experience with virality. What was the video? How was it filmed? How did it come about?

Jeff Passetti: My wife Jackie and I got a Corgi puppy in September 2014. We named him Bilbo, because he’s short, adventurous, and loves food. We filmed him with our iPhones many times as he was encountering things for first time. Around Halloween of that year, Jackie filmed Bilbo in front of a small pumpkin, and shared it on Instagram with friends, family, and her random assortment of followers. To this date, it only has 31 likes on Instagram.

Fast forward to September 2015: We were reminiscing about Bilbo’s puppy days, especially his barking antics, and we re-watched the pumpkin video. Jackie decided to put it up on YouTube, attach advertisements to it, and see how it plays. We went out of town to the Adirondacks that weekend to go hiking with Bilbo, and when we got home, we noticed the video got 10,000-plus views over the weekend. In addition to the views, Jackie had started getting emails from media companies that had noticed it and were asking about possibly licensing the video. We did some Googling and made some inquiries among colleagues to find out about the different media companies before we picked one to sign the video with.

CS: Why did you go with the company you ultimately chose?

JP: We ultimately went with Storyful because we liked what they had to say in terms of protecting the ownership of the video while also promoting it. Also, a Newhouse colleague had been at a journalism conference where Storyful did a presentation about authenticating viral videos for news channels, and he confirmed for us that they had a good reputation.

CS: What were some of the major pickups and placements this company helped you secure for the video?

JP: The video showed up in a variety of places, which was fun to watch for. A few of the more familiar ones were Good Morning America, The Weather Channel app, BuzzFeed, People magazine online, Hello Giggles, The Daily Mail, and The Huffington Post. Pet related companies like Bark Box and PetSmart were posting it on Twitter. At one point, it was even a top national trending topic on Facebook. I heard from friends as far away as Australia that they had seen it on their local news. A friend who works in D.C. texted us from a political fundraising party to say that people were talking about it there. Nerdist even put it in a post about the John Boyega reaction meme, showing him reacting to Bilbo. Jackie was a very happy geek that night.

CS: Why do you think your content went viral?

JP: I think it went viral for a few reasons. First of all, the timing was right. It went on YouTube at the very end of September, so it had the prime autumn and Halloween season to build momentum in October. It was seasonally appropriate with the pumpkin. The other reason is that cute animals have a built-in audience on the Internet, especially when the animal is extra small and having ridiculous reactions to something. It makes it very “gif-able.” Jackie constantly has students telling her that they see Bilbo gifs and memes on Tumblr.

CS: Any other takeaways from this experience?

JP: What a wild ride! It was unexpected, but an awful lot of fun. And our dog is now more famous than either of us can ever hope to be.