How Much Has Baby Shark Made Its Creator? (And Who Really Created It?)

When looking at a list of most watched videos on youtube, you’ll find the vast majority in the “hundreds of millions of views” club are various music videos. In the top 10, you’ll see a variety of household names like Ed Sheeran with 4.6 billion views on his Shape of You music video, Justin Bieber’s Sorry with 3.2 billion, and Katy Perry’s Roar with 3 billion. Embedded in this list, however, is a little song called “Baby Shark Dance”, by Pinkfong, with a whopping 4.6 billion views. And this number doesn’t even tell the whole story, as that is just one of over 100 versions of the song put out by Pinkfong, including the original that came out in November of 2015- about 7 months before the 4.6 billion view upload- that currently has 243 million views. Even the company’s Spanish channel’s Halloween version of Baby Shark (which more or less just changes the last lyrics to “Halloween doo doo doo doo”) rings in at about 72 million views; and they didn’t even bother to translate the words sung into Spanish in the video itself, despite porting it to their Spanish channel.

Needless to say, on the back of this little hit, with the most viewed version even peaking on Billboard Hot 100 at #32 in January of 2019, the company that owns the channel, SmartStudy, has managed to spin it into not just success across several YouTube channels they own, but to a Nickelodeon series and merchandise the world over- from blankets to clothes, diapers, and, of course, toys. Kellogg’s even created a Baby Shark cereal.

So how much have they made off of it? This is hard to quantify given, as noted, they’ve leveraged the song to bolster the company and its parent company as a whole across multiple channels and industries. But to begin with, on ads alone on the main video’s 4.6 billion views, after reaching out to a few children’s channel creators and coming up with a ballpark CPM and general monetization fill rate for children’s channels (including looking at the numbers before the relatively recent change in children’s ads on Youtube), it would seem they’ve probably earned around $7 to $14 million off of the main video youtube ads.

On top of this, according to SmartStudy, its Baby Shark song has at different times ranked #1 on iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, and Amazon, so generating an undisclosed, but likely very significant sum, from there.

And, of course, their Baby Shark content has brought in a number of new subscribers and regular views of the channel. As for numbers there, the furthest back we could find accurate data on their main Pinkfong channel is March of 2017, about a year after the video started to take off. In that month, they got about 80 million views and 71,000 new subscribers. Fast-forward to today after the Baby Shark phenomenon went global, and they get approximately half a billion views and 1M new subscribers every single month in recent months…

And that’s just one of their countless popular channels in various languages, with the trending data on the top ones we looked at all pointing squarely at the timing of Baby Shark’s rise kicking all of them into high gear…

And as for SmartStudy and potential gross earnings, their revenue in 2015 was about $8.5 million. The next year, when Baby Shark became a big thing, they jumped to just over $15 million. The year after that, they rose to $24 million. The year after that, in 2018, they were up to $34.3 million. We couldn’t yet find definitive data on their total 2019 figures, though based on their top channels’ data progression, among other things we looked at, we’d be surprised if they aren’t pushing into the $45+ million range for 2019. On top of that, the company’s stock, as well as its parent company, Samsung Publishing, have been soaring of late, making the Kim family behind the two companies a combined net-worth well in excess of $100M in their personal stock shares alone.

The funny thing about all of this is- they don’t actually own the rights to the song they based their version on.

In fact, nobody knows who does, as nobody knows who first wrote it. However, while you’ll here from this from literally every source we could find, including from representatives from SmartStudy, that the original song is in the public domain as it originated in the early 1900s, based on our research, the evidence at hand does not seem to support that hypothesis at all. It actually appears that SOMEBODY may still hold the copyright, if they can prove they wrote it. Or, at the least, they’d have a good enough legal argument to pursue the matter.

So where did the song actually come from?

Often mentioned along with this “early 1900s” narrative as supporting evidence that versions of the song have been around forever include pointing to the French “Bébé Requin”- a 1967 song which, translated, means “Baby Shark”.

The problem with this is that, other than the title and that it features a portion where a figurative baby shark is going after someone, this song bears little resemblance to the Baby Shark ear worm we know today and its direct predecessors. Translated to English, the pertinent part states:

I am a baby shark
With a white tummy and pearly white teeth
I’ll pull you down
Into the warm waters
And without your knowing,
With love, with sweetness,
hmhmhmhm..
I, pretty Baby Shark,
Want to devour your heart

Baby shark, velvet baby
Baby shark, baby of love…

To keep you
I will fight with my sisters
I want to be the only one
To eat your heart

Needless to say, it’s a bit of a stretch to call this song an ancestor to the Baby Shark we have today.

Moving on from there, the German Kleiner Hai (“Little Shark”) is commonly pointed to as yet more evidence the song has been around forever. In fact, a version of this song performed by Alexandra Müller, aka Alemuel, actually went viral in Germany, resulting in the first, albeit brief and isolated, Baby Shark craze all the way back in 2007 and 2008.

Now, we’ll grant that our research-fu when it comes to German is lacking compared to our abilities in English. But, for what it’s worth, we could find no documented version of this German version that predates the first known English version which we’ll get to shortly. And even anecdotal accounts from Germans only seem to go back to around the 1990s or so on this song. That’s not to say it’s not possible people were singing the German version before this, just the document trail doesn’t seem to be there. Though, if any native German speakers care to correct us if you know of something sooner, we’re all ears.

Also, seriously, everyone go watch the Alemuel version. It’s… interesting… and a virtual time-capsule of a video on what the early days of YouTube were like.

This brings us back around to English and what appears to be the actual origin of the song.

It turns out, it would seem the 1975 film Jaws.

This is very important to SmartStudy in particular as in the United States at least, after January 1, 1978, to quote copyright.gov, “copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years. For an anonymous work, a pseudonymous work, or a work made for hire, the copyright endures for a term of 95 years from the year of its first publication or a term of 120 years from the year of its creation, whichever expires first.” For works prior to 1978, there are many factors involved in determining the copyright status, which may or may not be important depending on how quickly after Jaws came out the song was written and the exact circumstances.

This brings us to the earliest documented instance of a version of the Baby Shark song, which comes to us from the 1981 children’s music book, Making Music Fun: A Complete Collection of Games, Puzzles, and Activities for the Elementary Classroom.

Noteworthy here is that the song is not called “Baby Shark”, but rather, “Jaws”. However, it otherwise strongly resembles the Baby Shark song, “doo doo doos” and all. Starting “JAWS du du du du du Jaws du du du du du” etc. It also includes a portion that mentions “Baby Jaws” and a “Giant jaws”, a lady-swimming, etc. It also mentions, “One of the aspects of the song that is the most fun is putting gestures to it,” implying some form of the chomping movements and the like were likely there as well at this point.

Now, you might be thinking, “Of course they called it ‘Jaws’, it was a huge franchise at the time, so perhaps they were just co-opting a pre-existing song in the public domain and changing the name to ‘Jaws’.” That is always possible. But, first, despite our sincerest efforts, we could come up with zero documented evidence of such a song pre-dating Jaws, including looking for all sorts of potential modification to lyrics and the like. Fast-forward to the 1980s, however, and the song pops up all over the place.

Now, it’s always possible the popularity of the film made some ultra obscure children’s song more popular, and we’d love it if someone found earlier hard documented evidence of the song, as it’s always fun to track these sorts of things down definitively, especially on topics nobody else has seemingly done a deep dive on. But even if such a song did exist, there is a key factor of this version, which is integral to the modern version, that points to it being a creation AFTER Jaws, and is significant enough that it would likely still be eligible for copyright as a derivative work based on these changes that still exist in the Pinkfong version.

We’re guessing a large percentage of you have already spotted it, but to make it explicit- the evidence that this version of the song came after Jaws, and perhaps the entire song itself given the lack of evidence to it before, can be found in the famous “doo doo doo doo” part of the music. Change the tempo a bit to be a bit more ominous and slowed down from the way it’s sung today and you get arguably one of the most famous movie themes of all time- the music played as Jaws approaches its victims.

As for where the aforementioned Making Music Fun 1981 music book got the song, they do not claim authorship, simply stating “Here is a song that we learned from a second grader at the St. Thomas School in West Hempstead New York About Jaws…”

In the end, given the timing some version of the song first started appearing in documented history, anecdotal accounts from people singing it at kid’s camps and the like not starting until the 1980s, and the inclusion of a version of the Jaws theme, all evidence to date seems to indicate the song came AFTER Jaws, probably written by some camp counselor or kid’s music teacher, and spreading and being adapted from there.

And speaking of improvised lyrics, all documented early instances of the song more or less followed the trend of having the family of sharks going along chasing and then eating someone, or a group of people, with some version of the “doo doo” sped up Jaws theme in between each progression. This is in stark contrast to the Pinkfong version where the humans get away.

So how did we get the slightly more tame version? It turns out the credit for that seems to go to children’s entertainer Johnny Only, who even posted a music video of it on YouTube all the way back September of 2011- 4 years before Pinkfong’s first version and almost 5 before their viral version.

Unfortunately for Only, while his song, music, dance moves, etc. are all exceptionally similar to the PinkFong/SmartStudy version (some say too-similar, which we’ll get into in the Bonus Facts in a bit), his music video didn’t take off, even today only having just shy of 150,000 views. PinkFong’s, on the other hand, which is far better crafted to appeal to the littles visually, has since made SmartStudy many tens of millions of dollars as noted.  And, unlike adult-music fads like Macarena and Gangnam Style and the like, as this one’s kid’s related and there are always new kids to come along to enjoy it, it’s not likely to stop making the company massive sums of money, really potentially forever if they keep leveraging it as entertainment mediums evolve, and creating new versions they can continue to copyright.

So next time you’re sitting in your car in traffic going to your dead-end job that you loath, just remember, there is a company out there who has literally made at minimum tens of millions of dollars already off a song they plucked from, allegedly, the public domain, modifying it only slightly from an existing version, claimed the copyright on that version based on those tiny modifications, did a few minutes of recording, presumably a day or two of video editing, uploaded it on the interwebs, and now will be cashing checks for it for the rest of their lives, as well as their kid’s lives and beyond.

Of course, in truth, that’s an oversimplification as before releasing that video they also did several years of work uploading almost 400 videos, improving their craft and building their platform in the process, all culminating in that video having a chance to go viral in the first place. Then, with the early going of views seeming promising, it spurred them to focus a ton of marketing efforts and money into keeping it going, with their marketing team ultimately helping it along to becoming a global phenomenon and leveraging its popularity to make money in other mediums… But quit trying to ruin the no-effort, overnight, rags to riches narrative.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

Bonus Fact:

As you might expect given that Johnny Only was the first known person to create a version of the Baby Shark song that cuts out the whole eating people thing, and that Pinkfong’s version is extremely similar to his, and that they are making Scrooge McDuck money off it, as well as getting all the credit for the song to boot, this hasn’t set too well with Only.

Says Only of the similarities, “The shortened length, the key, the addition of instrumentation, the type of instrumentation, the rhythm, the tempo, the sanitation of the lyrics for toddler age audiences, the tempo change mid song, the splash at the beginning… Even some of the harmony styles and things like adding a lower voice when they introduce daddy shark…. all the ones before mine are camp versions with blood and gore, loss of limbs, and frequently death. The toddlers also like the shark family and the fact that I made it shorter.”

Nevertheless, despite the similarities, he did not initially pursue any legal action against SmartStudy as he just assumed the song was in the public domain, and thus any version he made would be too, so they were free to use it as far as he was concerned. It was only after the Liberty Korea Party reached out to him to ask for permission to use his version of the song, which he granted as the thought he had no right to say no, that things came to a head. You see, SmartStudy threatened to sue Liberty Korea for infringing on their copyright, with the Liberty Party naturally responding that Only, not SmartStudy, owned the copyright to the version they were using. Said Only of this, “If Pinkfong’s song is so close to mine that they can’t even tell the difference, and Pinkfong tries to claim copyright infringement against their version when the political party is using my version, doesn’t that mean that my version also has copyright protection?” This got him looking into the legal side more, as well as SmartStudy’s version compared to his. Given the similarities, you’ll perhaps not be surprised to learn that whether they infringed on Only’s copyright or not is currently being decided in court.

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2 comments

  • Thanks Daven, I’m going to have this in my head the whole time!

    I do feel sorry for the family video from 2011 the dance moves, the key pink fong copy, the chunking backing electric guitars and the speeding up of certain verses all seem to spawn from there… He was short changed!

    Keep up the great articles! Highlight of my day coming here!

  • I don’t want to date myself too badly, but we were singing a pretty similar version of Baby Shark at YMCA day camp before the turn of the millennium. It *usually* didn’t have a verse about eating people, but enterprising six year olds quickly added ‘shark attack, doot doo doo doo doo doo’ and ‘people get eaten, doot doo doo doo doo doo’.

    :’)

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