How 'Charlie Bit Me,' the Most Watched YouTube Clip Ever, Changed a Family's Fortunes

PHOTO: Harry and his brother, 6-year-old Charlie Davies-Carr are the stars of "Charlie Bit Me" the most-watched viral video on the Internet.
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The rambunctious boys spinning wildly on the chair in the family living room look like any over-energized kids, until the one doing the spinning opens his month.

"Charlie, get off me," says 8-year-old Harry Davies-Carr.

But "Charlie" comes out as "Chaw-leeee" and suddenly there's a ring of familiarity.

Harry and his brother, 6-year-old Charlie Davies-Carr, are the stars of "Charlie Bit Me" the most-watched viral video on the Internet. The oh-so-cute video posted in 2007 runs just 56 seconds and shows the two boys -- then ages one and three -- playing in a chair. Harry tempts his little brother with a finger. Charlie promptly bites it and laughs mischievously.

A sweet little moment of innocence from Thames Valley, England, that has been viewed more than 436 million times on YouTube.

Their dad, Howard Davies-Carr posted the video five years ago to share with boys' godfather, who lives in Colorado.

"To me, it was just a lovely moment," he says.

Howard shared the link with family and friends. After a few weeks it had about 200 views. He let it languish for a few months.

"I went to YouTube to take it down," he remembers. "There was no need for it to stay on YouTube any longer. At that point, I realized that it had a few thousand views and then pretty much every day it was almost doubling in the number of views it was having, which I thought was rather strange. You know, why are all these people watching our video?"

What Howard Davies-Carr was witnessing was -- at the time -- a new Internet phenomenon: the viral video. With thousands of copies of the clip rocketing through cyberspace, he realized he had lost control of a private family moment. The genie was out of the bottle.

"So I had to make a decision: Is this something that we accept is us and do something more with or is it something we just park and say, 'That's really nothing to do with us,' and then everybody else will be exploiting it and making money from it?"

It wasn't until viewership hit 50 million that Howard discovered he could partner with YouTube to share ad revenue.

It's like they won the lottery. "Charlie Bit Me" has brought his family -- now four boys -- close to half a million dollars, all of it going to private schooling and eventually a college fund for the kids.

Their parents have resisted offers of American talk shows and public appearances and the boys remain oblivious to their inadvertent-but-enduring fame.

Five years later, they are sitting in that same chair, squirming and easily distracted. I ask if they know how many people have seen their little video.

"Three million," offers Harry.

"Eight million," adds Charlie, changing his answer quickly. "I mean 800 million." And he giggles.

It was the viral success of 'Charlie Bit Me' that inspired London lawyer and music producer Damian Collier to start what he says is the world's first viral video management company. He calls it Viral Spiral.

"I call them 'accidental content owners' because 95 percent of them have found themselves in this position by mistake. They've uploaded a video to YouTube and there they are all of a sudden owning a valuable piece of copyright."

Viral Spiral has placed snippets of "Charlie Bit Me" in ads for Sprint, Google and Tripit. A Charlie iPhone App is in the works and so are Charlie children's books.

Howard Davies-Carr says people who own videos that unexpectedly go viral need to be careful.

"There are an awful lot of unscrupulous people out there who will try and take advantage of people that don't understand what they have."

Other owners of viral videos are catching on and cashing in, too. A Brazilian bank used a video of baby ripping up paper to promote paperless banking. An Internet security company uses laughing babies to promote protection. A contact lens company uses a cute wide-eyed baby to promote its lenses. And then there's Fenton the deer-chasing dog in London -- soon to be the subject of a children's book.

"Generally, we find that animals and babies the world over are popular," says Collier. "Those tend to be the videos that people gravitate towards, but there is no science to it, in truth."

And no viral video has come close to the viewership of "Charlie Bit Me."

Maybe it's Charlie's devilish laugh at the end that has won the world over.

"I don't quite understand why people keep watching it and why they find it so exciting, but people do," says Davies-Carr. "You know, people leave lovely comments back to us saying we watch this video almost every day."

He says he and his wife, Shelley, struggle with balancing their children's accidental good-fortune with the pitfalls of fame.

"It's difficult. It's something I probably worry about every day," he says."If people want to watch them, that's great, but we've never gone out to say to people, you know, 'You should do something with the children. They should be in films or they should be models or this kind of stuff.' That's of no interest to us at all.

"When the boys get to 18, I'd like them to think back and think, 'O.K., I've got something in my life which is more than just what I was when I did the 'Charlie Bit Me' video.'"

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