Breaking our creative legs

The story is so deliciously absurd that I could have made it up myself. But I didn't -- it's all-too-true and reveals the tragically farcical truth about the Web 2.0 economy.

The cult Internet video show Break a Leg is one of new media's big hits with over 2 million views on YouTube, 500,000 views on Blip.tv, 100,000 views on Metacafe plus many more thousands on their own website. It's an "Office" style 30 minute ironic comedy written and produced by the brothers Baranovksy -- Yuri and Vlad, a couple of twenty-something San Francisco based Web dudes. Cool, eh? To the Web 2.0 crowd, of course, Break a Leg is way more than cool -- it's totally awesome since it represents the end of mainstream media, the long tail economy blah blah blah. So, any dude with half a brain would presume that Yuri and Vlad must be laughing all the way to the digital bank, especially since Yuri told the Wall Street Journal last year that each 30 minute episode cost only $400 to make (meaning that they must have paid their actors and crew close to zero for their work).

Wipe that smile off your face -- rather than an ironic comedy, Break a Leg is actually a absurd tragedy for those poor dudeskis Yuri and Vlad who recently confessed that in the two years of making nine episodes of their high definition show, they've only received $2,500 in revenue. $2,500 :)  -- $1,600 from YouTube partner program, $100 from Metacafe (which hasn't been paid) and $100 from Blip.tv. Awesome, eh? Even I can do the economics here -- 9 x $400 = $3,600. That means that, in spite of their over 3 million viewers, Yuri and Vlad have made a loss of $1,100 (or really $1,600 because of the outstanding Metacafe debt) from their two years of creative work.

So if the brothers Baranovksy, their crew and their actors aren't being rewarded for their creative labor, who is actually economically profiting from Break a Leg? The answer, of course, is YouTube, Metacafe and Blip.tv which are all both selling advertising against this content and also using all these page-views to add to their own market valuations. Multiply this Break a Leg story several thousand times and you get to understand why Google paid $1.65 billion for YouTube. This is the nasty little truth at the heart of the Web 2.0 economy. Nobody is winning except a tiny group of full-brained technology dudes who are laughing all the way to their Silicon Valley banks.

And my advice to Yuri and Vlad? Go back to your cultural roots, boyskis. Hitchcock showed us that San Francisco comedies are, in fact, quite tragic. Creative guys like you are the Underground Men of our glorious new Internet economy. For your next show, perhaps you should remix Dostoievski. Do Crime and Punishment 2.0. Then, at least, your message will conform to the new medium.