Wednesday, November 11, 2009

American University senior Jack Douglass was struggling to make ends meet as well as balance work and school.

On a Saturday afternoon in January, Mr. Douglass sat down for a couple of hours at his computer in a tiny room in the attic of his house near the Northwest Washington campus. He found a video online of a commercial often seen on late-night television about a blanket with sleeves. Mr. Douglass redubbed the commercial with his own audio commentary, sprinkling it with colorful language.

He posted the parody commercial, which is inappropriate for family viewing, on the Internet, and it went viral. Seven million Web hits later, Mr. Douglass is earning about $2,000 a month for his effort.

“I was just trying to make videos for my peers, for people with the same interests, the same knowledge of pop culture - college kids,” Mr. Douglass said. “I thought it would be an outlet for me to show off some of my filming talents.”

The video was one of a handful of funny videos that Mr. Douglass, a visual media major, has posted on YouTube since 2006.

The popularity of his video sparked an e-mail from YouTube, asking Mr. Douglass whether he would be interested in a partnership with Adsense, an advertising business associated with the search engine Google.

YouTube explained that he could make a few dollars for every thousand or so people who watched his videos. At the time, Mr. Douglass didn’t think much of it, saying he had no intention of making money and that the videos were more of a hobby than anything else.

After a month, Mr. Douglass received a check for more than $1,000.

“A lot of things went through my mind that day,” he said. “I thought maybe this crazy hobby of mine has some potential.”

Mr. Douglass said he has earned between $10,000 and $14,000 in the past year, mostly as a result of the blanket video. Now his checks are averaging close to $2,000 a month - and they’re still coming.

Greg Smith, adjunct professor for film and video at American University, said Mr. Douglass represents a trend among young filmmakers.

“You will still have big pictures, but you now have a whole generation of filmmakers who are coming out of film schools, or simply out of YouTube, who are making films for the small screen,” Mr. Smith said.

Daniel Castro, senior analyst for e-commerce at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said people making money off the content they generate is a Web trend.

“YouTube is a place where basically anyone can host a video on the Web site, and now YouTube has the ad network, and they are allowing people to monetize their content,” Mr. Castro said.

He said that through YouTube any individual can have access to one of the world’s largest ad networks. According to the online trade magazine Ad Age, 90 percent of the top 50 advertisers run ads on YouTube.

Mr. Douglass said that now he has other worries than schoolwork and making ends meet. He’s hiring an accountant to help him keep track of his taxes, he’s paying actors who work on his videos, and he’s deciding what to do with his newfound fame.

As for the money, Mr. Douglass said he is using it to pay his bills, and “saving the rest for a rainy day.”

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