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Influencing the Influential: Public Opinion, the Internet, and Mainstream Media

Antonio Lambino's picture

A documentary is currently being aired on American television entitled Caught on Safari: Battle at Krueger. Produced by the National Geographic Channel and based on an amateur video shot by an American tourist on a safari trip at Krueger National Park, South Africa, the documentary depicts a battle among a herd of water buffalo, lions, and a crocodile. Not only that, a dramatic narrative unfolds within this battle, but I won’t say more since that would spoil it for those who haven’t seen it!

What makes this documentary interesting to this blog is the reason why it was taken on by the National Geographic Channel. According to a New York Times article by Brian Stelter published on May 10, 2008, the original video, Battle at Krueger, was initially rejected by both Animal Planet and National Geographic. Only when it achieved online cult status and received millions of views on YouTube (which is where I first saw it a few months ago) was it taken seriously by the latter. Over the past week alone, the number of views has gone up from over 31 million to more than 32 million, perhaps partly due to the National Geographic documentary

In my previous entry on World Press Freedom Day 2008, comments were posted on whether and how much power public opinion wields in influencing media and politics. While the Battle at Krueger documentary is not about politics per se, it does provide a vivid example of the ways in which public opinion can influence decisions made by media executives. Granted, we are talking about a specific public here: people who are connected to the internet and, perhaps in the minds of programming executives, likely to pay for cable TV as well. Nonetheless, it is an instance of a public voting with mouse clicks and changing the cost-benefit calculations of elites. That said, must it really take millions of clicks for an online public to hold sway?

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