Jim Louderback

October 31, 2013

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 6: Champagne on a Beer Budget

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 7:53 pm

craft servicesNothing epitomizes big budget television to me like craft service. It’s a separate part of production that makes sure the actors and crew are fed. In many places, it’s even a union job. And if you’re considering it for your web video production, you’ve already lost.

I don’t mean to belittle the profession – it can be indispensable on large productions with mega budgets. And someday videos made for YouTube might actually be big and profitable enough to afford it. But in the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear: “Not Today Zurg”.

And that leads me to my sixth and final way to fail on YouTube – pretending you are TV.

Early on in my Revision3 days I met with a lot of companies that considered web video a gateway drug. Success on YouTube, they posited, was just a stepping stone to success on cable or broadcast TV. From National Banana to Ripe TV, their focus, storytelling and budgeting was all focused on finding the next big breakout TV format.

And while they were burning cash, folks like Shay Carl, Phil DeFranco and iJustine were making videos in their basements, and building huge passionate audiences that would ultimately lead to fame and at least a little fortune. But apart from moving pictures and audio, what these subterranean video dwellers were making had very little resemblance to typical TV.

It’s still true today. Even though some YouTube stars are pulling in millions of dollars a year, there just isn’t enough money going around to support even a fraction of the production expenses you see on the smallest TV shows.

Shortly after Discovery bought us, I was lucky enough to visit the set of a new show for one of our smaller networks. The production company was making 10 episodes, and the rough cost per episode was about $400,000. I later learned that even a mid-level reality TV show had a team of 20-30 folks that would descend on whatever slice of life was being exposed – and stay there for weeks!

Do the math. If you average about $5 in ad revenue for every thousand views, you’d need 80 MILLION views just to break even on that $400,000 production cost. That’s like scoring a “What the Fox Say” every time you post something. And that just isn’t going to happen.

Even what I consider the most successful “expensive” YouTube series – Video Game High School – barely broke even. They spent $22,979.32 on craft services, and nearly $700,000 overall – even with free labor and other creative financing techniques. You can check out the cost breakdown yourself in this great article show creator Freddie Wong wrote last year. So yes, you can spend TV-style money and maybe make a little money. But you’ll need to corral the most talented creators in the web-original video world and call in a LOT of favors. And even then you’ll probably still lose a lot. (as an aside, I’m looking forward to a similar analysis of Season 2 of VGHS).

So before you start shooting your super-amazing new YouTube series, take a close look at that budget. If you see the words “Director of Photography”, or “Grip” or you’re paying for a lot of special effects and sound design you should be afraid. Very afraid. Unless you’re the second coming of YLVIS – and you can do it every time – you’re probably throwing money away.

And if there’s a craft services line you better just throw in the towel. Because unfortunately, web video just isn’t big enough to support TV food.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 5: What’s the Frequency Kenneth

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jim @ 11:53 am

dan ratherNow that Revision3 is part of Discovery (and renamed Discovery Digital Networks), I’m once again exposed to traditional television production cycles. Shows here are planned, purchased and produced in seasons. These are typically finite frequencies – 6, 13 or occasionally 26 episodes, with very clear start and end air dates.

Want to fail on YouTube? Do the same thing. Thinking of your content in seasons – or even worse, delivering content at random intervals – is one of the most common ways to fail.

The most successful creators on YouTube know this intimately. Pick any top 50 channel at random, and you’ll probably find a set schedule of release that’s slavishly adhered to – whether weekly, daily, and even at set times during the day. Many top creators are even building new tightly-related properties for their channels that will increase weekly frequency while continuing to follow to a rigid schedule. The incredibly talented Dane Boedigheimer just launched the first of a family of weekly scheduled series to enhance his “Annoying Orange” franchise, while Harley Morenstein – known for his weekly Epic Meal Time – just launched another regularly scheduled gaming channel.

It’s a hamster wheel. Creating successful franchises on YouTube means that once you start you literally can never stop – or face audience erosion. Here at Discovery Digital Networks we call it feeding the content monster. The audience is always hungry – and has very little loyalty to boot.

I learned this early on in my Revision3 days when we brought a show over to Revision3 called “Epic Fu”. Created by the incredibly talented Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf (and originally called “Jet Set Show”), Epic Fu was one of the early YouTube successes. The creators decided to move their show from Next New Networks over to Revision3, but ended up taking a few months off during the transition. Alas, even though they were slavishly dedicated to regular release, that gap caused a disastrous fall-off in views. With all the other new shiny on the web beckoning, the audience moved on, and we never really figured out how to bring them back.

“But Jim”, I can hear you complain, “what about shows like ‘Video Game High School’”? The popular series just came back with season 2 – about ten months after season 1 ended – and it’s still huge.

True, VGS is an anomaly – and a great show to boot. But even here there’s evidence that regularly scheduled content between seasons contributed to season 2’s success. During that 10 month hiatus, Freddie W and Brandon Jla released 22 new pieces of content on their channel, mostly video game themed. Even so, there was still a drop off between average YouTube views of season 2 vs. season 1– although that could easily be explained by the additional distribution the latest episodes received on their off-YouTube site and other places.

I’ve always thought of web-original video as more akin to talk radio and news than traditional television, and my experience bears that out. Regularly scheduled releases – at least weekly – and no gaps are required if you want to be successful. As a creator, you really want to develop habits, and regular temporal triggers make those habits easier to adopt. So take a tip from Daily Grace, Phil DeFranco and just about every other successful YouTube star: Irregularity is a path to irrelevance.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 4: Fake It Until You Make It

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , — Jim @ 11:49 am

fake it until you make itAristotle advised readers that if they acted virtuous, they might then become virtuous. That adage has been adopted into by the “Fake It ‘till You Make It” crowd, who practice self-deception as a life strategy.

And for many, it actually works. Nevertheless, it is one of the dumbest things you can do on YouTube, and indeed on the internet in general.

I call it “stream fraud”, and I feel like I’ve been railing against if forever, but it’s only been three years. Back in 2010 I was mostly concerned with shady video ad networks and other low-life players, but since then it’s moved on to YouTube in force.

There are more than a handful of seemingly legitimate companies that will take your money and give you “views”. A quick search on Google for “buy youtube views” turns up a variety of alternatives – from Virool to Channel Factory and Vagex – most of them shady. The recent REELSeo forum had at least two companies promising to deliver 10,000 video views in just a few days on any video. The YouTube sections on many black-hat SEO forum sites have thousands of pages where these illegitimate techniques are discussed. Unfortunately these tools are used by more brands than you might think.

You can typically spot these fake view videos a mile away. How? Look for videos with hundreds of thousands – or millions of views – and just a smattering of comments. Or hundreds of likes and no dislikes. The best YouTube videos engage at least a few people, and if you’re not attracting even a few nattering nabobs of negativity, you’re just not doing it right.

Buying views isn’t just a waste of money – it’s outright fraud if in-page or in-stream ads are served. But if that’s not enough to sway you, YouTube’s not standing still either. At the end of last year they began to target channels and videos that were clearly juicing views, including wiping out more than a billion fake views from Universal Music alone.

But that didn’t solve the problem. I’ve continued to see blatantly faked view counts across YouTube this year – I even called out the problem during my Vidcon keynote in August.

clip_image001

The enclosed screen shot is just one of many examples I’ve found. Published on April 12th, 2013, this video has over a quarter million views, but just 5 comments. Even worse, it has 408 likes, but only one dislike. And that one’s not even legit – I actually put it in myself just to see what would happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another clue that this video’s views were faked. I grabbed this stats screen from YouTube just a few days ago – 23 more views, but nary a smidge of engagement:

clip_image002Notice that virtually all 250,413 views happened on just one day. That’s just not normal. And no shares nor subscriptions were driven from those views either. If it were a duck I’d call it decidedly odd.

But YouTube has recently started stepping up its enforcement. In mid-September they posted a video warning creators away from buying fake views, The relevant quote:

“YouTube believes that a view should be something that happens when someone decides to watch a video. If someone is tricked or forced into watching a video, that is not OK…. Anything that artificially increases views either through automated means or playing videos for people who didn’t choose to watch them is against our terms.”

So it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law. And in the last few days another round of crackdowns has begun in earnest as the company penalizes and takes down suspect videos.

So if you want to fail on YouTube, go buy a bunch of shady views. And when you get caught, good luck convincing your boss, your clients or your partners that it just wasn’t your fault. Congratulations! You just failed miserably at YouTube.

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 3: Riding the Meat Puppets!

Filed under: Commentary,YouTube Tips — Tags: , , , , , , — Jim @ 11:43 am

Meat_PuppetsAssociation with a celebrity is a tried and true way to move the needle. Just put Tom Cruise in a movie, Tom Brady in a commercial or Tom Hanks as a guest host and watch viewers and sales go through the roof.

Surprisingly, it doesn’t work that way on YouTube. We’ve seen a parade of celebrities try to dominate this new medium by riding on their celebrity coattails, and have fallen flat. Everyone from Madonna to Miley Cyrus and Shaquille O’Neil has seen dismal results.

I’ve talked to a number of High Q-Score individuals, and attempted to guide them to success on YouTube – or mostly to scare them away. Because on YouTube it’s not about how famous you are – it’s about how authentic and accessible you will be.

You just can’t expect to toss up a few videos every now and then and never return. That celebrity halo that sells so much soap is just noise on YouTube. You have to actually work for your views – and that’s not what most celebrities want to hear.

That’s because at its core YouTube is a community. You can post videos and you might even get a handful of breakout hits. But without really engaging the community you’ll fall flat over the long term. And most celebrities just don’t want to put in the hard work to grow those group. It’s completely understandable, by the way. YouTube is still an emerging medium, and anyone with a notable Q-Score will make far more money by plying their trade on TV, radio or in theaters rather than on the web.

There is a massive exception though: music videos. In addition to being an incredibly personal medium, YouTube is also the world’s jukebox. A catchy song and some arresting visuals will keep ‘em coming back again and again. And if you can get naked on a wrecking ball in the process, even better!

But aside from music videos, a celebrity-themed channel where the celeb fails to show up at least a few times a week is a recipe for disaster.

October 29, 2013

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube 2: Ignore Your Audience

Filed under: YouTube Tips — Tags: — Jim @ 12:22 pm

ignoreLast time we talked about the first dumb way to die on YouTube, which is to put a disparate variety of shows into a single YouTube channel. My friend Mark Gardner pointed out, however, that both Geek and Sundry and Nerdist seem to do this to good effect.

It’s a good point, and yes they do seem to be doing quite well. But it’s important to note that much of the success is attributable to the appearance of some of the big stars behind the channels – Felicia Day and Chris Hardwick respectively. When those two show up – and they do quite often – those episodes typically do significantly better than the others. In addition, all the disparate properties are thematically similar, and feel more like segments of a single variety-type show rather than separate shows with individual missions.

But another reason why both of these channels seem to be successful while so many similar ones fail is that their creators are very good at not falling into the trap of DWTFOY #2. Unlike so many traditional media ventures on YouTube, they listen and respond to their audience.

Back in the late nineties I helped launch a cable TV network called ZDTV – which subsequently became TechTV. I even hosted a show for a few years, Fresh Gear, a weekly roundup of the latest computers, gadgets and tech gear.

We’d rush around all week trying to put the show together, and when it was finally done and shipped off to Master Control that’s the last we thought about it – as we had to start sprinting to our next weekly deadline.

We rarely thought about the audience at all, and outside of a few emails and meetups at Comdex and CES, we had very little contact with the viewers. Similarly when I was Editor-In-Chief of PC Magazine – along with other tech publications – our community was called “Letters to the Editor”. We spent a few hours a month interacting with the community, and every other hour devising content to shove down our readers’ throats.

That doesn’t work today. Successful creators on YouTube typically spend 30-50% of their time interacting with their viewers. Much of that comes from being active in the comments that flow on YouTube after your videos have posted. But it’s more than just that. G+, Twitter, Facebook and email are just some of the ways today’s successful YouTube creators build – and then bind – big audiences.

It’s diametrically opposed to how much of traditional media works – particularly television. In the TV world we build walls between our stars and our audience. Ever see The Today Show taping outside at Rockefeller Center? It’s like being at the zoo, with Matt Lauer and crew safely walled off from their fans. Everything from agents and teleprompters to having your personal assistant hand-craft your tweets goes against the direct, authentic and person to person relationships that the true stars of YouTube are so good at building.

This really hit home for me at Vidcon this year, as I listened to Shay Carl, Phil DeFranco, iJustine and John Green talk about their relationship to their audience. Each of these megastars passionately explained how they consider it a privilege, and not a burden, to interact directly with as many of their fans as possible, whether in person, on message boards or in comment streams. Phil poignantly brought the importance of this connection home as he related how the audience has actually changed his mind on key issues over the years – and that would never have happened if he’d had filters protecting him from his fans.

The message was clear. When you listen to your audience you have to be prepared to be changed by them, and collaborate with them. Conversely, if you don’t, you will fail.

And that gets me back to the first Dumb Way to Fail. I’ve been in the comment stream of more than one of those multi-show channels, and seen posts talking about how they really wished one of the shows was in its own channel. Why? Because the posters were tired of being fed things in their stream that they just didn’t want. And flooding the stream with irrelevant material, and then not listening to the audience when they tell you to stop gives you a double dose of fail.

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