A 'Christmas Treat' Is An Internet Sensation

It has been the year of the Internet video revolution: 100,000 new clips each day, uploaded by an estimated 5 million contributors, appear on Web sites like YouTube, MySpace and Google. (Photo courtesy ABCNews.com)
It has been the year of the Internet video revolution: 100,000 new clips each day, uploaded by an estimated 5 million contributors, appear on Web sites like YouTube, MySpace and Google. (Photo courtesy ABCNews.com)

Did you see "A Special Christmas Treat"?

No, it's not a holiday movie. It's a "Saturday Night Live" skit featuring Justin Timberlake that became an instant classic. The subject of the boy-band ballad Timberlake and "SNL's" Andy Samberg performed? An ode to the holiday treats they're offering their girlfriends. These treats can be found in well-decorated gift boxes, strategically placed in front of their midsections.

If you didn't catch the skit on television, you can join the 2 million other people who watched the uncensored version on YouTube. That might not surprise you, but the fact that NBC made that version available on its Web site, and on YouTube, is a true sign of the times.

When it comes to online video, everyone wants to capitalize on the reach of the Internet. We're all making up the rules as we go along, and we're all caught up in the phenomenon.

In 1981, MTV debuted on the air with "Video Killed the Radio Star." And a quarter-century later, 2006 was the year that video -- shot in new ways, stored in new ways, seen in new ways -- really did change lives.

Embarrassing or sensational moments have been "caught on tape" and shown on TV for decades. But lately, "tape" is so ... five minutes ago. Today's images have been captured on digital cameras and cell phones and Tivos, and they no longer have to turn up on television to have an impact.

Instead, these images are on the Internet, on Web sites like YouTube, MySpace and Google -- 100,000 new clips each day, uploaded by an estimated 5 million contributors. The result is a freshly stocked cyberscreening room, open to anyone with a desktop or a laptop.

Bob Garfield, a columnist for Ad Age magazine and co-host of NPR's "On the Media," says he believes the Internet "will be the single most democratizing element ever to touch humankind.

"I think the Internet ... it's fire," he added. "The digital age is revolutionizing the world as we watch in ways that I don't even think we can begin to grasp now."

Viral Video

The result of this revolution? Viral video: clips that get passed around to millions of people, like jokes or the common cold. Clips that make you laugh, make you wonder or make you mad.

It was a cell phone that captured university security tasering a UCLA student inside the campus library, and video of a controversial LAPD arrest, posted on YouTube by a lawyer, resulted in tens of thousands of viewings and tangible results for the suspect.

Viral video has also spelled doom in the political sphere. When Republican Sen. George Allen was caught making an alleged racial slur, the video raced around the Internet, torpedoed Allen's re-election campaign, and helped cost the GOP the Senate.

And it wasn't just news that made the upload explosion -- it was entertainment, a heaping buffet, with clips to suit any palate.

Enterprising uploaders defied copyright laws to share long-lost clips of top pop stars or rock bands in their glory days.

Teenage girls served up random, shaky-cam hilarity from their birthday parties. Teenage boys offered bone-crunching wipeouts on skateboards and BMX bikes.

Conspiracy theories and celebrity flakes, boxing knockouts and booty-shaking, expert lip-syncing and embarrassing light saber work: All of it found a home, and an audience, on the welcoming worldwide Web.

Garfield says that "YouTube has created a bottomless reservoir for those of us who like to gawk. And ... it is a gawker's paradise now."

The Great Equalizer

"YouTube is TV's equivalent of the Statue of Liberty," says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television, at Syracuse University.

"Bring me your crazy, your badly produced, your anything, we'll take all of it," he says.

But why do we crave it so? Part of the answer lies in the Web-fueled appetite for the new, the now, the uncensored.

Some also point to the growing preference for "unbundled" entertainment, where you don't have to watch the whole TV show or listen to the whole album or buy the whole newspaper to get the good stuff.

There's also the proven interest in reality shows and their moments of all-too-painful humiliation. One of this year's top movie comedies, "Borat," was like one long caught-on-film frolic.

In this new universe, the only thing that's finite is our capacity to pay attention. During its video music awards broadcast this year, MTV streamed 30 different backstage cameras on the Web, capturing every conceivable encounter and conversation. How much is too much?

Good Bad vs. Bad Bad

"For every 100,000 things that are up there, there's one that's ... bad enough to be 'good' bad as opposed to just 'bad' bad," says Thompson. "You can only watch so many high school kids miming lyrics from a Pokemon song."

We may enjoy serving as our own editors, but it would take an entire lifetime just to watch one day's worth of YouTube videos. So "20/20" has selected all the year's most arresting video images and tried to make some sense out of this new and overwhelming video tubescape. We'll bring them all to you on a special "20/20," Friday, Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. ET.

And with 50 million video-ready cell phones, and 18 million already shooting, we will continue to be inundated with images as never before: the sublime and the ridiculous, the heroic and the heartless, the trivial and the world-changing. Plus some "Christmas Treats."

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