Matt Basta

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An Industry Waiting to Happen

Something that I've been watching (both figuratively and literally) is the explosion of the phenomenon known as ASMR. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, which is a really tiresome way of saying "brain orgasms".

What is ASMR?

ASMR is a pleasant sensation that some people get when other people do things very carefully, deliberately, or show very close personal attention. I won't go into it too far (there's an absurd amount of writing on the topic), but suffice it to say that when someone experiences this sensation, it feels really, really good, and people go really far out of their way to experience it.

Some ASMR-inducing videos that are very common:

To the uninitiated observer, watching a YouTube video of a person shining a pair of boots or a close-up video of a person chewing jelly beans is just plain weird. To someone who enjoys ASMR, these are an ideal week-night past-time.

Why does it matter?

Here's the thing about ASMR: not many people experience it, but the community that does is incredibly fucking serious. The subreddit for ASMR is larger than the subreddit for Python. It's larger than the subreddits for Stargate, Golang, ShitAmericansSay, China, and Weather...combined. We're literally talking about a community among nerds that rivals r/cosplaygirls.

More importantly, the community is growing, and fast. The volume of searches for ASMR has doubled in 2014. ASMR videos easily get thousands of views in the first few hours that they're posted. Popular ASMR videos get hudreds of thousands of views within a week.

If you've never seen an ASMR video, check out this guy. If you don't experience ASMR, you'll definitely be confused, and probably a bit weirded out. But look at those numbers! Companies like Comedy Central pay for advertising and their average video hardly reaches the same view counts. This is just some guy making videos about tapping together bits of wood.

But here's the incredibly interesting part: scientists don't know what it is. And they don't really seem to care, either.

The lack of science

The ASMR community is really unique in the fact that by scientific standards, it simply shouldn't exist. There's been no official or published research on the topic (to the best of my awareness). It's even been a fight to get a Wikipedia page made because of a lack of scientific evidence. But at what point does a concept that has over three million videos (frequently over half an hour) become relevant enough to be notable on Wikipedia?

Fortunately, an article now does exist (see the first paragraph of this post). What lacks in the article is authoritative sources: all of the references (at the time of writing) are from news sources reporting on ASMR as a phenomenon.

What's going to happen

What you can see from the community now is that there's zero commercialization. Nobody is making money, aside from the odd YouTube advertisement on the videos available online. There's no subscription boxes. There's no membership sites. Beyond content generated by average Janes and Joes like you and me, there's a complete void of monetization around this.

And that's what's going to happen. Commercialization is going to happen.

That doesn't even need to be a bad thing. In fact, it will probably be a good thing: there's so much free user-generated content now that it will be hard for a corporation to drop in and take that over. What I expect to see, though, is a full-on effort to generate high-targeted monetized content to ASMRians. That means:

It's interesting to see the community play with their own ideas. Because ASMR content often has a strong focus on role play, it often introduces very "meta" ideas. Consider this video by the YouTube user MassageASMR. Without asking you to sit down and watch it, it suggests that there might be an IRL club for ASMR enthusiasts. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if such a thing became a reality in densely populated urban areas (or if it was already a reality).

I should note that there are a few existing commercial entities in the ASMR community, though they aren't there as a result of ASMR. Massage Clips by Lita is a channel that's been around for over six years (!), completely predating even the term for ASMR. While it focuses on ASMR now, it was previously selling content that happened to tailor to the ASMR community.

What it means

It's something to keep an eye on. And it's a huge market opportunity. If I were a retailer today, I would be all over this shit with my marketing team(s) to start putting together dedicated online content, sections of eCommerce sites that tailor to ASMR-related products, and more. This is a billion-dollar industry waiting to happen and someone is going to come in and eat the entire ASMR picnic basket.