“We’ve got something called ‘the sieve,’ our secret formula of the elements we like videos to have that make them go viral,” said Paul Greenberg, chief executive of College Humor. “The ones that blow up are the ones that are very applicable to what’s going on in pop culture but have broader themes.”
VMK hits that sweet spot, he said. “The characters are archetypes that a lot of people can relate to. You don’t have to be a fan of the Olsens to appreciate the humor.” The VMK episodes are among the most popular videos on the site. College Humor reaches more than 12 million monthly unique visitors, and Very Mary-Kate “has had tens of millions of views.” The series makes money via general advertising on College Humor’s site along with advertising specifically allocated for the VMK series.
“It’s a form of show that only works on the Internet,” Hines said. “They’re short. You can gobble them up like candy.”
The series is perfect for undergrad procrastinators or employees aching for a break at the office, which makes it ideal entertainment for College Humor’s 18-to-34-year-old target demographic.
And the Internet, where social media facilitate easy sharing, is exactly the right place for VMK. “We tailor our content to the medium,” Greenberg said. Not to say that the future is an Adderall-addled nation capable of watching only narratives that unfold in 90-second clips. “There’s still a desire to watch longer content if it’s good. . . . I don’t think any medium is ‘winning’ or beating out another one. I think different consumers are in different places at different times.”
So could VMK consumers one day be in front of TV sets, awaiting the next installment in Mary-Kate’s misadventures? “It would be great if it made sense” for VMK to transition to television, Greenberg said. But “writing a 22-minute sitcom is different from writing a two-to-three-minute Web video. You end up with different kinds of jokes. The directing is different. The pace is different.”
Mary-Kate Olsen’s press representative was reached for comment but did not respond. People who know the Olsens have told Carroll and Reich that the real Mary-Kate is aware of the series. As for her opinion of the sketch, the two have no idea but, well, they hope she’s not offended.
“I feel protective of [the Olsens], oddly,” Carroll said. Though she will happily portray VMK as an insecure bulimic, Carroll does draw the line somewhere. “I try not to use profanity,” she said. “We have some boundaries!”
Plans for the coming year include a live show and, in an even more ambitious move, a 30-minute episode that viewers can buy online. The series began its third season Dec. 1. New episodes air every Thursday. Perhaps VMK will grow up a little this year, maybe even fulfilling her promise of “changing my major from ponies to something more adult, like horsies.”
Reich said to keep an eye out for the Christmas video. “Mary-Kate still believes in Santa Claus. She has an awful realization.”
“There’s going to be songs,” Carroll added. “And we’re thinking of sending her to jail.”