The house that Susan built… by Tom Hoffman


A blog by Tom Hoffman – VP, Digital & Social Media, Fremantle

The house that Susan built


Fremantle has seen huge success on YouTube with our professional content for years. But this month, we reached a new milestone when an audition clip of our very own Asia’s Got Talent winner, The Sacred Riana, became the number one video on Facebook.*

I often call our constantly evolving digital business, ‘The House That Susan Built’ in reference to the industry turning point in 2009 when internet virality was redefined. We suddenly shifted from amateur videos like ‘Charlie Bit Me’, to more professional fare like Susan Boyle’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ Britain’s Got Talent performance – which overnight transformed her into a superstar.

Susan broke three million views on YouTube in just five days.

As a global IP owner, we embraced the value of YouTube early, and we never looked back.

A new viral video machine

Fremantle now has more than 10,000 videos with more than 1M views each, and in 2017 we did more than 26 billion views on YouTube alone. But growth doesn’t stop there, because there’s a new viral video machine in town – Facebook.

This year, Fremantle content has been averaging around one billion views a month on Facebook, and we are seeing no signs of it slowing.

This Facebook video renaissance had its own Susan Boyle moment in 2017 when a young Indonesian illusionist named The Sacred Riana took to the stage on season two of Asia’s Got Talent (AGT). What happened next, exceeded all expectations.

To be clear, there are a lot of players in this story. For a start, Asia’s Got Talent is broadcast and marketed brilliantly on Sony’s AXN channel. The wider Got Talent franchise was created by Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment and is co-produced and owned by Syco Entertainment and us, Fremantle.

Asia’s Got Talent started season two with a respectable 1.7M subscribers on its Facebook page, with about 87% of its audience in Asia. Like any of our local formats, she performed on the TV show, and the clip was uploaded to the Facebook page that night. In less than a month, she had more than 35 million views. Some companies would have stopped there, but we are The House That Susan Built’. So, when we see an English language video plateau at an impressive 35 million views in a matter of weeks on an 87% Asian audience channel, we don’t just see a great clip – we see the tip of a global iceberg.

Two months before this, we had started some new experimental pages on Facebook that applied a strategy we had been observing for a while – the success of niche genres.

In August 2017, our Digital Platforms Team in London created the Watch Tab pages, ‘Singers Got Talent’, ‘Dancers Got Talent’, ‘Comedians Got Talent’, ‘Kids Got Talent’, and ‘Magicians Got Talent’ (nicknamed, MGT).

A week after The Sacred Riana was uploaded to the Asia’s Got Talent page, we also uploaded the same clip to this new Magicians Got Talent page, which only had about 12k subscribers at the time. But it had something the AGT page did not – a 20% US audience and the momentum of Facebook’s new Watch Tab.

– In two weeks, Sacred Riana on MGT eclipsed Asia’s Got Talent’s already impressive 35 million views
– In four weeks, it passed 85 million views
– In two months, it reached a quarter billion views
– By August 2018 it surged well past a half billion views and dethroned the biggest video on Facebook of all time to become #1

The house that Riana built

This is not a small event. The videos that The Sacred Riana dethroned from Facebook’s upper viral echelon were far more akin to the user generated fare reminiscent of the “Charlie Bit Me” days of early YouTube. They were videos of people performing incredible athletics caught on smartphones, cleverly edited lifehacks, and videos of people hugging cute animals. I have nothing negative to say about these videos – they are all evocative, clever, and authentic in nature. But they are not TV.

So The Sacred Riana’s success on Facebook is not solely a Fremantle, Syco Entertainment or Sony AXN victory. In an era where the TV industry feels an increasing anxiety about the Silicon Valley behemoths, I think TV professionals everywhere should feel excitement in this Susan Boyle moment, because the next time I write this, it will be from “The House That Riana Built”.

* According to Tubular Labs, the world’s largest big data social video metrics measurement company