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

The most watched YouTube clip ever has become a moneymaker for Charlie's family.

ByABC News
March 29, 2012, 11:50 AM

THAMES VALLEY, England, March 29, 2012 — -- 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.