It's been estimated that nearly 100 million people have now seen Britain's Got Talent contestant Susan Boyle perform "I Dreamed a Dream." She's an overnight tabloid sensation, a champion of the showtune, and a balm for the unappreciated of the world. She may even be a poster girl for mental disabilities. This closet crooner is well on her way to performing for the Queen -- and by that, I mean Oprah.
But no one's making any money off her yet. Even though her YouTube video has been seen by so many people, somewhere along the way, Simon Cowell and his media partners failed to get money out of it. And it didn't have to be that way.
Cowell's label, ITV (the show's British TV network) and YouTube have a revenue-sharing agreement, which some say should be netting them a half cent per play. That would mean a check for $500,000 just based on the last two weeks of viral video watching alone. And if Google ads had been sold for that video, too, the payday could leap by the millions.
But Wired reports that it hasn't been done. FremantleMedia, which produces the show, declined to comment, and Google said "that video is not being monetized," meaning no one's getting a piece of the action. So far, the Susan Boyle tidal wave has failed to drench anyone in a wave of cash. A Wired blogger theorizes that music licensing is to blame. Les Misérables, the source of the song, is still playing in London and Amsterdam, after all.
The media companies are being truly stupid about this one, and it affects us, too. A smart TV exec would have quickly inked a deal to start showing Britain's Got Talent to Yanks the moment Susan Boyle became a web phenom. She was on the first episode of the season, so we wouldn't have missed a thing. BBC America, a logical home channel for the show, already airs plenty of ITV programs. But, as Entertainment Weekly sullenly points out, no one has made that deal, either, and we can't stream full episodes online, either.
Americans can't see the entire show if we wanted to. Then again, Britain has stupidly blocked much of its culture from being exported to us online despite the fact we are not permitted to buy it though other means. Countless British smashes, from their terrific version of The Apprentice (with Sir Alan Sugar as a gruff, unshaven version of Trump) to its seminal version of Big Brother to the international springtime sensation the Eurovision Song Contest, are not available to us. Try to watch online, and you'll find them blocked to American IP addresses. Who can say how many cash cows are being denied the bigger American market?
The censorship, blamed on rights, goes both ways. The Brits are blocked from watching shows like The View online, as we can. Don't know why. It's not like there'll be a boxed set they can buy later. (Thank goodness, perhaps.)
As for Boyle herself, she's still just a contestant, so she won't get a piece of anything until the winner is announced. At this rate, though, as the media companies bungle the cash-in, by the end of all this, she may be the only one laughing. I think it's safe to say that even if she doesn't win, she'll easily score a record deal on the back of her insta-fame. Watch that YouTube video again, and if you look closely, you can see little pound signs dancing in Simon's eyes. She's already received offers for film roles, both of the B-grade and blue varieties (yes, an L.A. porno company wants to pay her $1 million to lose her virginity on camera. Can you imagine?).
But to judge by the contestants in the second round of initial auditions, which aired last week in Britain, she's still a shoe-in to win the competition. The British press has unkindly implied she's already sold out by getting her hair done, as if looking tidy is a betrayal of her bedraggled spinster image, but I think that's unfair. The woman's finding herself at the business end of every major network's cameras on both sides of the Atlantic. Let her do a little long-delayed grooming. She's hardly dating models and dining at The Ivy, like Simon. If she keeps her hair frizzy and trots herself out in a housecoat, she'll be blamed for turning her frumpy image into schtick. She can't win.
She's still plenty frumpy, if that's what's important to the press. Then again, I thought it was her voice we liked. It's not a Cinderella story if we don't let her try on the ball gown.
Simon Cowell misses the big Susan Boyle payday