And the most valuable aspect of popular videos on YouTube is that their audience, amassed from one person e-mailing a suggestion to another, is homegrown and authentic, at least for now, in a way that our synthetic celebutantes of late (think the "The Hills" cast) haven't been.
Take the phenomenon of mall hauls. After a day of shopping when I was a teenager, I would model new clothes in front of my mother, sister and perhaps one or two friends.
Now, a Los Angeles teenager who goes by the screen name DulceCandy87 shopped at Forever 21, videotaped her stash and the rundown of her new party dresses has been watched more than 102,400 times on YouTube and racked up more than 1,000 comments. (See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdVk6ixepDY.) That's more commenters than students who attended my Los Angeles high school.
YouTube viewer numbers are hard to ignore. Millions have watched videos from the silly to the stupid. Talent agencies and licensing outfits are working hard-to-generate profits from the video phenomenon, and apparel and beauty lines represent a new frontier.
Two YouTube personalities, Fred Figglehorn and Panacea81, whose real names are Lucas Cruikshank and Lauren Luke, are key test cases for translating the Web site's popularity into cash at retail registers. The Fred Figglehorn character, a fictional six-year-old misfit, is at the center of an array of licensing goods from shirts to backpacks that sell at Hot Topic and Justice for Girls. Lauren Luke is spearheading By Lauren Luke, a makeup line that has launched at Sephora.
If they succeed, a rush of YouTube personalities might follow. In the long term, however, the success of YouTubers could be problematic. The word of mouth that buoys YouTube hits can also turn negative.