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Lip Sync Battle and How the Internet Is Changing Television

04/08/2015 02:49 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

With Lip Sync Battle having just premiered on Spike, we have a key new data point in analyzing the morphing relationship between Internet video and television. The conversation has generally assumed television was the central medium, so it influenced everything else. For years, people have talked about how the online video industry was trying to produce content more like television programming, or how television programming could use online video as a marketing tool. While it's hard to imagine Lip Sync Battle being a serious example of anything, it does show us that the conventional truth surrounding the relationship between television and the Internet has been flipped upside down: now what the Internet likes is affecting how television programming develops.

Television is no longer the nexus of media from which everything else takes its commands. Now that online video audiences have become decidedly larger than television audiences (other than for sports), the desires of the online audience have significant weight. The only thing that has held this trend back is that online video is harder to monetize than television programming, but with the size of online audiences growing so fast, even that is becoming a less salient concern. Online audiences have been throwing their weight around for a while now. They brought back Veronica Mars and Reading Rainbow, but that was done through Kickstarter campaigns. The next step is television networks actively searching for online trends and capitalizing on them, and Lip Sync Battle shows that the next step has arrived.

Think about the history of Lip Sync Battle's creation. First, you get Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show doing lip sync competitions with the likes of Emma Stone, Paul Rudd, and more. As part of the social sharing strategy, in which The Tonight Show posts short segment clips online to generate social media posts, videos of these lip sync competitions are put on The Tonight Show's YouTube channel. It turns out Internet audiences like lip syncing and seeing celebrities being goofy, so the videos go viral. The Emma Stone and Paul Rudd videos alone have logged over 70 million views. Just a few years ago, that's where the story would have ended (and there is no way that many views would have been logged). Network executives would have been satisfied knowing that they generated some buzz and made a few bucks on YouTube. Today, the story goes quite a bit further. Spike saw the popularity and designed a whole show around the simple phenomenon of socially shareable clips of goofy lip syncing celebrities.

That story made two assumptions: First, that Lip Sync Battle was conceived of as a result of Fallon, and second, that the show was actually designed around social sharing. Both are pretty clearly true. Fallon is featured in the very first episode of the show, and promotional material has called him the master of the craft. They definitely wanted Fallon and his lip sync identity tied to this project. As for the second assumption, just take a look at the Lip Sync Battle YouTube channel. They have uploaded over 20 short clips from upcoming episodes of the show, have created an online only pre-show hosted by Elliot Morgan and Greg Miller, who have existing YouTube followings, and even have a YouTube edition of the show in which popular YouTube content creators compete in a lip sync battle. There is a serious attempt to leverage online audiences.

They are willing to spend big money to try to tap the Internet video viewers. Celebrities from Anna Kendrick to John Legend appear on the show this season. For Anna Kendrick's rendition of Jennifer Lopez's song "Booty," J.Lo herself makes an appearance. Anne Hathaway performs Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" while actually swinging on a wrecking ball. This is a high-budget, high-octane show working to bring what the Internet likes onto television.

So something as seemingly vapid as Lip Sync Battle on Spike may in fact be proof that a new era of media is upon us. Or just that Spike executives watch a lot of YouTube. Either way, it's a step in the direction we all kind of thought was coming: the Internet taking over everything.