Getting’ Jiggy With GIFs

Last month I wrote about the vital role that online video now plays in establishing, or in the case of Justin Timberlake growing, fan bases for music artists. Little did I know that the real music video story of the year was just around the corner. Miley Cyrus’ infamous foam finger twerkfest at the MTV Video Music Awards garnered more headlines than any could have dreamed.

While Miley’s six minutes have been dissected, demonized, mocked, and praised as an ironic spoof of music videos (really?) by nearly everyone with a computer or microphone, they raise a bigger question around video rights and distribution.

The Death of Live

While I was aware of the VMA broadcast this past Sunday night, unlike 99 percent of my demographic, I did not watch a minute of the live MTV broadcast. Still, on Monday morning my email and social feeds were jammed with video and animated GIFs of Cyrus’ performance. The sources included the expected – BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and Rolling Stone – as well as the unexpected – Mashable, CBS News,, The Week ,and too many others to list.

The coverage was so rampant that The Onion ran a brilliant mock-ed, on behalf of, explaining why Miley Cyrus was the lead story of the day. It perhaps best encapsulates the widespread coverage of Miley mania.

We have all seen this before, where the media runs right past other “lite news” such as military strikes in Syria for the feeding frenzy of pop culture. But this was different, this was the day that the video died and the animated GIF ruled.

Add It Up

I did not do the math, but a majority of these established news sources eschewed the traditional video clip (and its accompanying pre-roll) and opted to present Cyrus’ performance through animated GIFs. This trend has been growing but this weekend seemed to be a true tipping point where our bite-sized appetites were satiated not by the actual video, but with animated outtakes that were enough to fuel social streams and water cooler conversations.

Shorter Attention Spans

Our consumption patterns have gone from must-see live performances, to on-demand DVR to video recaps, and now six-second GIFs. There are two major media and marketing impacts to this – broadcast rights fees are exploding as advertising opportunities are eroding and being dispersed. If the majority of us are able to have the three-hour broadcast highlights spoon-fed through outtakes, where is the value – to broadcasters and advertisers – in an original telecast?

While there is this great fragmentation of the same original content, everyone is pushing to get into original content creation. It was announced this week that Major League Baseball is producing and streaming an Alicia Keys concert from Central Park this fall. There is presumably no baseball, hot dogs, or apple pie associated with the concert, but MLB Advanced Media is competing with Google, DirecTV, Amazon, the traditional broadcast nets, and many others for original programming distribution rights.

Content is definitely king, but if it is so easily served and consumed in bite-sized GIFs the morning after, I wonder what value are the rights fees actually acquiring?

So just as I was beginning to question the relevancy of broadcast rights and corresponding ad ops, it turns out that MTV dominated 18-49-year-old viewers. So maybe there is room for everyone at the party – broadcasters get ratings, social nets get enormous engagement, online publishers get animated GIFs, and Miley gets a sales boost along with a foam finger.

Image on home page via Joe Seer /

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