Aside from Justin Bieber videos, YouTube’s greatest contribution to the internet has been in the ‘humans being dumb’ genre — everyone loves watching, say, people failing to pour ice water on their heads. But viral videos don’t just go viral on their own; in many cases, there’s a viral puppetmaster pulling the strings.

NPR has a fascinating look into the work of a company which makes a quick buck off viral videos. In a nutshell, the business model is to pay a legion of Generation Yers to scour YouTube for upcoming gems, enter into a licensing agreement with the owner, then flip the clip to MTV for a few thousand dollars.

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One of the main attractions of viral videos is the unplanned nature. Charlie’s finger-bite wouldn’t be so adorable if it was an ad for a nanny service, after all. It’s a little disappointing (if not entirely surprising) to know that even this last bastion of online innocence is carefully curated and optimized for maximum shareability. [NPR]