On last night’s episode of Channel Ten’s The Project, host Waleed Aly explained in the simplest possible terms with calm clarity a point about ISIS which has been obscured by vast swathes of western media.
He made the point the terrorist organisation is desperate to cause divisions between Muslim and non-Muslim people around the world, and those who choose to vilify ordinary Muslims in response to ISIS attacks are making the situation worse.
The Project is not a great TV program and its contributions to journalism and popular discourse in Australia are limited at best. It’s existed for seven years now and despite its promise of “news delivered differently” it’s still suffering from an identity crisis (and its 90-second live interviews are never able to get to the crux of any issue).
But what it occasionally does well is these opinion-explainer segments headed by Aly (who is substantially better at them than previous host Charlie Pickering). There’s no doubt that Aly is an intelligent, clear thinker and communicator and with the slick graphics employed by the production team at The Project, these videos are massively share-able on social media. What that means is that The Project is able to reach audiences well beyond its strong but modest ratings (it sits mostly around the 600,000 to 700,00 mark, but fluctuates quite a bit).
Aly’s most recent segment has gone viral not just in Australia but around the world. The Facebook video post alone has amassed more than 13 million views and 400,000 shares since it was posted last night and that figure is continuing to climb. The video has also been hosted on several other platforms and has been shared and promoted by international media outlets. Not bad for a small Australian current affairs program.
Comedian John Oliver, who hosts Last Week Tonight works on a similar basis. Oliver’s two-year-old program is aired on cable network HBO in the US and has a far broader reach than The Project around the world thanks to international syndication. But much like The Project the show generates hype and reaches a massive audience through viral clips.
Oliver’s latest is a very different (and NSFW) response to the Paris terror attacks, which has been viewed millions of times on different platforms, but looks still to be eclipsed by Aly’s take on The Project.
And it’s not just news commentary programs which rely on social media to get their content out around the world; this principle has been a massive part of how Amy Schumer has become the hottest comedy icon in the world right now. Schumer’s breakthrough sketch show Inside Amy Schumer airs on the cable channel Comedy Central and rarely gets more than one million viewers in the US. But many of her sketches are shared and viewed millions of times, such as the brilliant “Last Fuckable Day“, featuring Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette.
It’s just another example of how TV creators without the biggest traditional audiences are able to reach further than they’ve previously been able to via different platforms. It is, of course, more difficult to monetise content that goes viral than content that’s been broadcast to a huge audience, but it does mean that audiences are now deciding what resonates and what doesn’t all around the world in a way that they’ve never been able to before.