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Viral virtuosos: From 'Potter' musicals to online magazines, 'U' students become web stars

Salam Rida/Daily
Viral video stars Thomas Roltsch, Chaz Cox, and Danny Lysz. Buy this photo

Daily Arts Writer
Published January 31, 2011

Correction Appended: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Danny Lysz's company and the number of YouTube videos he has been a part of. Lysz's company is called University-Studios, and he has participated in the making of over 40 YouTube videos.

Click. Watch. Copy. Paste. Send. With the variety of online networking websites available nowadays, that’s all it takes to make someone’s entertaining or informative Internet presence, thought or video reach millions.

According to Charles Severance, clinical assistant professor in the School of Information, a simple idea is a key for an online video to become viral.

It’s not necessary for one viewer to send the video to a thousand other people for it to be considered viral. Though it wouldn’t hurt, it ultimately comes down to a small responsibility: Each person that receives the video needs to keep sending it along the chain, passing the responsibility on to a few others and watching as the viewing numbers soar.

Severance said he created a viral video to further explore this theory. The video in question features him at the steering wheel with an iPad mounted on it as he drives and reads the newspaper. In the video he claims this invention is “much safer than other forms of in-car driver distraction.”

After initially sending the video to his students and observing the statistics YouTube offered him, Severance saw the video grow in popularity across the world. He found his video was most appreciated by 40- to 50-year-old car-fanatic men in England, New Zealand and Australia. The video now has roughly 150,000 hits.

“Viral videos are like a virus,” Severance said. “Once it hits a population that is susceptible to the virus, it spreads until (the population) consumes it.”

The general markings of a successful viral video, Severance said, are the length and general content. It should be roughly less than three minutes, with a comical element introduced in the first 30 seconds. Adding cute animals and young attractive males and females never hurts, either.

More often than not, however, a video’s success is really hit-or-miss.

“My hypothesis is the ones that have the best chance are the ones that don’t try to plan too much,” Severance said. “It’s more luck than planning.”

For instance, Music, Theatre & Dance junior Thomas Roltsch was interviewed back in November on "The Daily Show” about Chris Armstrong and the incidents with former Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell.

Shortly after the interview’s airing and subsequent posting online, Roltsch said he was recognized everywhere and even received a free tequila drink from the bartender when he would go out. As more and more viewers saw the clip, Roltsch’s fame increased — fans on the streets would spot him when he was out enjoying a meal with friends once or twice a day for the following month.

“(The whole situation) made me think about how people are becoming famous nowadays from what can be construed as no reason,” he said. “Like Paris Hilton — she’s just famous for being known. People really glorify fame in our culture, regardless (0f) the reason behind it.”

From 'U' to Internet universe

Many viral videos birthed here at the University started as live performance. A prime example is the playful and creative work of Team StarKid. Originally an offshoot of Basement Arts, StarKid became its own company following its growing success.

After creating a campus-wide fanbase, the group’s musicals grew to worldwide appreciation with StarKid’s online presence.