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Public Media Goes Viral?

It’s no Susan Boyle, but I think public media may be on the verge of having a genuine viral hit. ITVS, the source of some of the hippest and most inventive cross-platform storytelling (King Corn, World Without Oil) has launched a new project called FutureStates. It includes awesome interactives, such as this super cool must-experience Predict-o-meter. FutureStates is a series of 11 powerful digital shorts on social issues, one of which (according to the Washington Post) is already on its way to viraldom: Plastic Bag by Ramin Bahrani with German actor/director Werner Hertzog narrating as V.O.G (voice of God).

Be honest: did that short film make you cry? Feel anything? Are you finally ready to sack the plastic bags for good? But, more immediately: how many people are you going to share that link with today?

Public media doesn’t have a deep history of content going viral. Award-winning independent journalist Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films has had tremendous success and has garnered a cult following with his short guerrilla films exposing political hypocrisy, among other hot topics. His McCain vs McCain broke the 1.5 million views mark on YouTube.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to hear that funny stuff spreads faster and wider than serious stuff. Who wouldn’t rather laugh than cry, right? This American Life has had at least two viral successes. TAL on Showtime’s unforgettable segment on the Wiener Circle “restaurant” in Chicago where profanity and insults are served with a bun attracted 435,000 views on YouTube. (Disclaimer: this video contains language that is inappropriate for young viewers, and may be considered highly offensive. We recommend using discretion before viewing it.)

But even more popular was this shorter video of This American Life contributor David Sedaris delivering a pizza, which caught 635,000 pairs of eyes on YouTube.

Minnesota Public Radio has had a few videos that have crossed over the border into Hitsville. One featured U.S. Senator Al Franken drawing a map of the United States by memory, also on YouTube.


Have you encountered any other public media content on the verge of a viral breakthrough? If so, please show and tell in comments below. What do you think public media should do to get a mass audience?