Category Archives: Commentary

Bye Bye Revision3 and Discovery!

Douglas Adams RocksAfter five years as CEO building Revision3 into the number one non-fiction web-original video network – and then more than two years overseeing the company’s integration and expansion into Discovery Communications, I’ve decided to call it quits.

It’s been a great run, both personally and professionally. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a tremendously talented group of investors, employees and executives, and learned a lot about building companies, raising capital, successful exits and how to integrate a startup into a large corporation.

But seven years is long enough for just about anything. I guess you could say I got the itch. But it’s not yet an itch to do anything – more of a desire to nothing.

And that’s just what I’m planning to do, at least until the rains come to Northern California this fall. I’ve woefully neglected the things I love outside of work – including video games, music, hiking, travel and of course my family.

Of course I’m not going to go completely off the grid – although I am going to start checking email just once a day (if that). Along with catching up on all the great Xbox One games that have come out in the last year (that’ll take what, two days tops?) and following Phish on their west coast swing in October I’m writing a book for first time CEOs, detailing all the dumb things I did as a way to help them avoid making the same mistakes.

I’m about 20,000 words in, with an outline, but no clear idea when it’ll be done. I plan on writing an hour a day – and then goofing off for the next 23.

Of course I’m always interested in proposals, ideas and other possible ways to write the next chapter of my life after El Nino hits NoCal. Drop me a line at jim@louderback.com and stay in touch.

And if you’re interested in the book, I’ve included the first chapter here if you want to read it. I’m not sure what to call it, but here are some of the headlines I’ve been considering:

  • What to Expect When You’re Selected: A Primer for First-Time CEOs
  • OMG I Became a CEO, and You Won’t BELIEVE What Happened Next
  • CEO FAIL: 23 Stupid Things I Did Running A Silicon Valley Startup
  • The Only CEO Guide You’ll Ever Need
  • 53 Ways to Really Screw Up Your New Company
  • READ THIS: A CEO Survival Guide
  • Boardroom Confidential: How To Survive Your First Year as CEO
  • OMG I Became a CEO, and You Won’t BELIEVE What Happened Next – (chapter 1 book excerpt)

    me as presNote – this is the first chapter of a book I’m writing about my experiences and shortcomings as a first-time CEO – hopefully others following in my footsteps will learn something and not make the same dumb mistakes I did. More to come… (and if you want to publish my book, which is about 20,000 words long at about the halfway point, email me!)

    TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT

    Eight years before the “Great Recession” of 2008-2013, the digital economy went through the Tech Meltdown, the Tech Wreck, a collapse of the dotcom bubble that wiped out 5 trillion dollars of value. During the run-up to that melt-down I helped run a speculative Cable TV startup called TechTV – originally named ZDTV when we launched it in 1997 out of the tech magazine publishing company Ziff Davis.

    For five years I ran the content operations of the innovative TV startup, while reporting to a man-child boss whose claim to fame was early production credits on MTV’s Real World. I led the team that gave away thousands of free internet video cameras to our audience, and we were the first TV network that actually put our fans on the air. But by 2002 I’d had enough.

    We’d sold the network two years ago to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who I still call (only half in jest) the world’s worst investor for his habit of buying promising companies, screwing them up, and then selling them just as they began to turn around. TechTV was screwed up – both due to dumb decisions Paul forced on us, and to be fair, some of my own boneheaded moves.

    But in the spring of 2002 we weren’t alone. The rest of the world was a mess too, particularly in San Francisco where I lived and worked. Layoff parties had given way to a vast diaspora, as the hordes of wannabee dotcom millionaires headed back home – the lucky ones to attend law school or get an MBA, the less fortunate to sponge off Mom and Dad or start a new career in real estate.

    With two mortgages, an artist wife and a three year old son – and no savings – it was hardly the right time to ditch my job. But ditch it I did, shortly after laying off more than 100 staffers. It was scary – but not nearly as scary as continuing to work for assholes.
    My “Take This Job and Shove It” attitude – without a safety net to fall back on – ended up working out just fine.

    After a glorious four months of hanging with my son, some light consulting, and some freelancing for the New York Times (a by-line bucket list item) an old co-worker called to offer me a job running websites at Ziff-Davis, which turned into running all content and being Editor-In-Chief of PC Magazine. I’d conquered my fears, quick my job, and ended up in an even better space. It was scary, but I learned a strong lesson. I didn’t need that corporate security blanket; I really could thrive by setting my own course. The freedom of saying F-U to TechTV set me free.

    I didn’t know it then, but that leap into the abyss led directly to me becoming a startup CEO five years later.

    In 2007 some of my former co-workers at TechTV approached me to see if I’d be interested in running their new startup Revision3. Launched as a hobby two years ago by Kevin Rose, Dan Huard, Jay Adelson and David Prager, the company initially focused on releasing video podcasts on Apple’s new video-based iTunes software. What started out as two guys sitting on a couch, drinking beer and talking about tech news had expanded into a company with 10 employees, 12 shows and a commitment by one of the top venture capital groups in the US – Greylock Partners – to invest 8 million dollars. The catch – they needed a CEO with some legitimacy. And Kevin and Jay thought I filled the bill.

    Although I’d run a variety of large content organizations, I was laughably unprepared to be a startup CEO. But because I’d ditched my job in the middle of a terrible downturn, and was able to not only survive but thrive, I was convinced that running a new company would be easy. Boy was I wrong.

    During my five years as startup CEO, and then more than two running the company as a division of Discovery Communications, I made an inordinate number of mistakes. But through those boners I learned an amazing amount as well.

    And I was lucky. I had some amazing – and mostly patient – teachers to help me out. Greylock partner James Slavet was new to venture capital when he committed 8 million dollars to Revision3 – and lots of lessons to me. No one would call his senior partner, David Sze, patient – yet I learned a lot from his outbursts as well. Digg CEO, Revision3 founder and Chairman of the Board Jay Adelson proved to be a great sounding board and as always ready with a shoulder to cry on and commiserate with as we railed against the tyranny of the VC. Former Ziff-Davis head of HR Rayna Brown also provided a wealth of great knowledge and advice, and asked for very little in return.

    But if you’re a first time CEO, you might not be as lucky as me. Even if you are, you’re going to face an overwhelming scattershot of confusing issues, odd situations, weird behaviors and strange terminology. And I realized – as I navigated the shoals – that there really is no user’s manual, no bible, no set of instructions to help the new CEO make sense of this confusing new landscape.

    So that’s what I decided to write. This book is not designed as a history of Revision3 – one of the earliest and more successful web video startups. Instead, I’ll try to explain the lessons I learned along the way, mostly through the dumb things I did. The book’s organized by primary areas you’ll have to deal with, including fundraising, dealing with boards, hiring and building out your team, finance, selling your company and more. With that said, let’s dive in!

    Stay tuned for the rest of this book, due out sometime… before the end of the decade!

    Blackberry Q10 and Nokia 925 First Looks

    he hate meJon Rettinger must hate me.  I was down in his offices a few weeks ago, talking about how TechnoBuffalo and Discovery can work more closely together when he spied my poor Nexus 5 phone.  Its screen had been tragically cracked, and looked about ready to die.

    (Pro tip:  don’t get a tight-fitting hard-shelled case for your Nexus 5 phone.  According to an LG product manager I talked to at CES the lateral, twisting force used to install and remove the case puts too much stress on the supposedly unbreakable Gorilla Glass screen, leading to cracks just like I’d experienced.  Setting aside the irony that my protective shell had indirectly caused my cracked screen, apparently softer, more rubberized cases are much safer).

    Jon charitably offered to lend me a phone or two while I sent the Nexus back to have its screen replaced.  He waved his hand over his closet of test units, and selected a Blackberry Q10 and the Nokia Lumia 925.

    You’re on T-Mobile,” he explained, “and these should work just fine.

    At first I was excited to try both phones.  I’ve sworn off the iPhone due to an irrational fear of being sucked in and handcuffed by the Apple Way, but had yet to try these new operating systems.  I vowed to give each at least a week, to really be able to pass fair judgment.

    BlackBerry Q10

    I’d been a satisfied Blackberry user up until about four years ago, so I decided to give the Q10 a try first.  And at first, I was happy.  It was like cozying up to an old girlfriend, I already knew her peccadillos and foibles, and enjoyed tinkling a real keyboard for the first time in years.   The device itself felt solid and I liked the addition of a real touch-screen above the physical keyboard.

    Alas the honeymoon was short-lived.   I started missing the bigger screens used by more modern smart phones when I ventured beyond email.   And even that much vaunted email application had fallen behind Android – deleting a series of messages, for example, required three key-presses or screen touches to move from one message to the next, compared to just one on Android.

    And in what would become a theme, I was disappointed by the lack of some of my favorite apps, including SiriusXM and Waze.   Although I might have been able to survive without satellite radio, the lack of Waze was a real non-starter, as it had become indispensable for avoiding traffic on my many recent trips to Los Angeles.

    But the kicker?  I spied myself in a mirror while tapping out a message on that great keyboard and realized that I just couldn’t carry a Blackberry phone – even if it had all the apps I needed.  I live and work in the San Francisco bay area, and run a new-media group staffed primarily by millenials and hipsters.

    I get enough grief already – although it has waned considerably – by my refusal to embrace the holy Apple religion.  Android is at least acceptable to these Silicon Valley tastemakers.  But Blackberry?  I might as well wear a T-Shirt to the office that said “Old and In the Way.”   Nothing screams “this is your Dad’s phone”, and “I am a corporate drone” more than the iconic Blackberry.  I lasted three long-weekend days before moving on.

    Lumia 925

    After the Blackberry, the Nokia 925 felt like going home – if someone had rearranged the furniture and changed the locks.   I loved the large touch screen, and the physical characteristics at least didn’t scream “fuddy-duddy”.  But even this long-time Windows user found it hard – at first – to get started.

    But I soon started to pick up the odd operating system conventions, and soon I’d configured the phone to follow my lead.  I was initially upset that I couldn’t replace the stock soft keyboard with  a custom model.

    I’m a big fan of “Thumb Keyboard 4” on Android, because even though I have small hands, if my thumbs were longer I’d rival Sissy Hankshaw for hitchhiking prowess.  But I became increasingly impressed with Windows Phone’s adaptive keyboard.  It may have been all in my head, but it really did seem to start limiting errors and improving my poor typing.

    And the camera really was great.  The pictures I took were amazingly beautiful, and were easy to share on Facebook and Twitter.

    Unfortunately the app shortage was even more acute on the Windows phone. Waze was there, but so many others were missing.  I found myself really pining for SiriusXM, Nest, Sonos, Feedly and many other tools that make my mobile life so much easier.   And since I was travelling during my tests, I really missed one of my new favorites – “Field Trip” – from Google.  But I was really disappointed by the terrible audio support on the phone.  Although Microsoft claims you can just drag and drop from Windows to the phone, I couldn’t get that to work – let’s call that user error.  But the lack of support for “FLAC” audio files was the real problem for me.  I encode much of my music in this lossless format, and it’s unacceptable for a modern computing device to eschew this format.

    So after a few days on Windows Phone, also, headed back to the closet.  But before I locked it away for good, a notion struck me:  this phone would be perfect for my wife.  She’d been using a really old Android phone for the last two years, and had been nagging me about an upgrade.  And she needed just a few things out of her phone:  email, Facebook, photos and basic calling features.  And it had to be easy to use.  And at all these, the Lumia 925 excelled.   I set it up for her, and she’s been happy as a clam the last few weeks.  Well, at least until a few days ago when the 925 inextricably stopped recognizing her SIM card.  It wasn’t the card – a new one was also rejected.

    I know I’m going to regret this – but while exploring repair options I gave her the Blackberry Q10.   I’m going to hear about this one in a day or two, I know.  The Lumia 925 is a strong device, particularly for basic use.  But the Blackberry Q10 really does feel like an anachronism – even for my less than tech-savvy wife.

    Anti-Aereo! Tablet TV Streams Broadcast to Mobile

    The coolest thing I saw at NAB 2014 this year? Tablet Television – a neat consumer TV product that’s sort of the anti-Aereo. Not only does it turn mobile devices into real TVs, it’s coming from an interesting alliance of companies.

    Tiny Tablet TV streams ATSC to tablets
    Tiny Tablet TV streams ATSC to tablets
    First the features. Smaller than a deck of cards, this little device includes two ATSC tuners, a wifi hub, 4 gigabytes of storage and the smarts to convert over the air TV signals into a WiFi stream of bits inside the house. Turn it on, load the android or IOS app on your tablet or smartphone, and suddenly your favorite mobile device turns into a TV.

    Although it’s limited to WiFi – which means it’ll only work at home or in the office – it’s far superior in quality to the ATSC-M/H mobile broadcast standard which was designed to support mobile/handheld with a sub 480i image.

    The device also includes 4 gigabytes of on-board storage for basic DVR functionality, and can be expanded via a mini-SD slot to 64Gigabytes or more.

    It’s a nifty device that could really turn our tablets into TVs. Due out in September, the device on display featured a rough interface, and only supported a single device at a time. Pricing has yet to be determined, but it’ll likely be in the $100 range, with no additional fees for watching over-the-air broadcast. The company plans on offering premium services, such as Netflix and Hulu Prime, although they had nothing to announce at the show.

    Built by Motive Television, a UK-based creator of mobile video services, it’s a slick solution. But even if they don’t make a dime on premium services, it’ll still be a win for Motive’s partner, Granite Broadcasting Corporation – which owns 14 local TV stations around the country. As a sort of “anti-Aereo”, this device will let Granite control how its signals are consumed by consumers, not a disruptive third party.

    Although the company only plans to create apps for Android and iOS, when I suggested Roku, FireTV and AppleTV, the developer got that far away look and said, “hmmm, I hadn’t thought about that”. I hope they do, it would make the device far more useful!

    I’m excited to see how this product works – and who knows. Maybe you’ll even be able to watch Revision3, TestTube, Animalst and Sourcefed on the service as well!

    5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks!

     

    stupid-bar-tricks-bookHave you seen Google’s new Chromecast device? It’s a super-cool way to add internet video to almost any HDTV. And for just $35, it’s almost an impulse buy. And guess what – despite some annoying inconsistencies it actually works pretty well. You can easily send videos from YouTube, Hulu, HBO, Netflix and even Revision3 from your tablet, PC or phone to any Chromecast enabled big-screen TV: as long as you’re on the same local network.

    But you can do a lot more with Chromecast than catch up on your favorite shows and YouTube channels. There will be a flood of new capabilities coming soon, but even before that happens, you can make your Chromecast do all sorts of dumb tricks.  Here are a few of my favorites:

     

    #1. Send Any Internet Tab to Your TV

    5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks (That Really Arent Stupid at All)You aren’t limited to just video. As you surf the web on your Windows PC – using the Chrome browser – you can cast any tab to any Chromecast-enabled TV. It’s simple. First download and install the Googlecast extension to your chrome browser, which adds the Chromecast logo to the right of the address-bar. Then when you want to cast a tab, simply press the plug-in and select your named Chromecast device (I call mine “Living Room TV”). It’s not perfect – but usually works pretty well. I’ve used it to send non-Chromecast approved in-browser video players – like Aereo – to my big screen TV with great results.  You can even use this to cast some local files to your TV as well – for example, in Windows you can drag an image into a browser tab, and then cast it to your TV.

    #2. Send Your Whole Screen to Your TV

    Chromecast isn’t limited to just browser tabs. You can ship your whole screen to a Chromecast-enabled TV as well. This is a bit more “experimental”, but worked well in my tests. To do this, follow the same instructions for sending a tab to your TV, but before you select your named Chromecast on the cast pull-down, click the little grey down arrow to the right of the “Cast this tab to…” line. There you’ll be able to toggle between sending a browser tab and sending the full screen. This is great for sending Powerpoint and other presentations to a TV – along with apps and files that won’t load in a browser, like VLC and other video players.

     

    #3. Hack Your Hotel With Chromecast

    One of the problems with most hotel rooms is that you’re forced to watch poor quality live TV on the in-room TV – or you have to spend a mint to order up a movie. Chromecast changes all that – although again, like most things Chromecast, it’s not perfect. To do this, simply find an unused HDMI port on the in-room TV. Sometimes this is easy, but often the TVs are bolted to the wall, making it tough to even get access to one of the HDMI ports.

    5 Stupid Chromecast Tricks (That Really Arent Stupid at All)

    But once you plug the Chromecast in – and find power – you still need to ensure that the Chromecast and your casting device are on the same network.  You could use the hotel’s wireless network but these are typically too slow for video, and often charge on a per-device level, which could make the cost prohibitive. Chromecast also wasn’t designed to frequently change its home WiFi network, and it regularly took me three or four attempts before I could get it to sync up when I changed its wireless network.

    Instead, what I do is pre-connect the Chromecast and my casting device (PC, tablet and/or phone) to a personal wireless network. I carry around a Verizon MiFi, which supports five devices over a typically decent 4G connection. You can do the same thing with your phone, if it supports internet connection sharing (just beware the per-bit charge if you don’t have an unlimited data plan). Once your Chromecast and your casting device are on the same network, the entire internet of video is at your fingertips. You can easily watch Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Revision3 or any other source using tips 1 and 2 above.

     

    #4. Magically Turn on Your TV With Chromecast

    Your Chromecast can actually tell your TV to switch on – and turn to its HDMI port – automatically when you cast a video, tab or full screen to it. Now this won’t work with every TV, and requires that you power your Chromecast via the included AC-adapter, rather than an on-TV USB port, but when it works it’s almost magic. It’s called “HDMI-CEC”, with the CEC standing for “Consumer Electronic Control”.  Although designed to allow a single remote control to manage multiple devices, it also provides the ability for an HDMI device to turn on the TV and switch inputs. On my Vizio TV I needed to enable CEC for that particular HDMI port for it to work. Some TVs that support CEC call it by a different name – Samsung, for example, calls it “Anynet+”.  And even if your TV doesn’t make a CEC option available, it might be hackable.  This thread on Reddit explains how to get it working on at least one Samsung TV.

     

    #5. Turn Your TV Into A Lava Lamp

    Once you have Chromecast working, you’ll start looking at your TV in a different way. No longer simply a rectangular black hole on the wall, Chromecast lets you turn your TV into a visual window into the larger world, even if you’re not watching lean-back (or lean-in) TV. Google will pump a steady flow of images to your TV, and soon one of my favorite apps, Artkick will be chrome enabled.  That will turn your TV into a museum featuring a constantly changing display of the world’s top paintings.

    leanbackBut it’s not just still images. Here at Discovery Digital Networks, we’ve been experimenting with passive video loops that we’ve nicknamed “Lava-Lamp TV”. These are amazing hour-long videos that bring arresting and/or relaxing moving images to your big screen, but are designed not to tell stories but simply to provide great visuals. We’ve mined the Discovery Channel library to put together hours of amazing 3D-dinosaurs, great weather clips, the best space footage, sleek and ferocious shark attacks – all set to soothing electronic music. We’ve even created an hour-long video of the world’s cutest cat – Lil Bub – sitting in front of a fire place, along with a kid-friendly hour of great dinosaur videos.  You can see – and cast to your TV with Chromecast – all of our amazing Lava Lamp videos at our Chromecast / Revision3 video hub.  Happy Casting!

    What Calvin and Hobbes Taught Me About Big Data!

    treasure 2Fans of comic strips still fondly remember Calvin and Hobbes, the story of a peripatetic 6 year old and his stuffed (but oh-so-real) tiger. One of my favorite strips shows Calvin digging in his backyard, pulling up “a few dirty rocks, a weird root and some disgusting grubs.” His exclamation to pal Hobbes: “There’s Treasure Everywhere”

    I’ve found myself thinking more and more about that phrase as I ponder this year of “Big Data”. Now Big Data certainly has a lot of promise, and it certainly has been hyped to death. But it’s also – to many of us – pretty scary. Big Data requires lots of other big things, including big computer hardware, big staff, big project timelines and big budgets. The promise of Big Data is certainly strong – but for many of us it’s proving daunting and confusing as well.

    We’ve been working on our own “Big Data” project here at Discovery Digital Networks for the past year. It’s not been without challenges. We discovered that one of our trusted data sources has numerous inconsistencies, another supposedly “real-time” source really couldn’t be trusted until about 15 days after each month closes, and we’ve also had to revamp our staffing assumptions and timelines. We’re starting to get some killer stuff out of that big data project, but it’s taken longer, cost more and exposed more warts than we ever expected.

    You’re probably in the same boat. The promise of big data is huge – but the reality often requires a priesthood of data scientists to implement, and more mumbo jumbo than you’ll find at the New York Witch Festival.

    But a funny thing happened on our way to Big Data heaven. The more we thought about it, the more we realized we didn’t need to wait to get real actionable audience and other insights. There really is data everywhere that you can tap into right now that will help you understand how customers, suppliers and others view you, your company and your products.

    For us, it started with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube. We started spending more time first monitoring discussions (or lack thereof) with our shows and hosts, and then began reaching out and joining the communities of our fans. We discovered an important (but obvious in retrospect) fact: if you ask people a question politely, they will usually answer.

    From there we started using simple tools like Survey Monkey to create basic questionnaires to put in front of our viewers, using YouTube annotations and other means to drive response. We got all sorts of insights that way. And although we haven’t done this yet, others have told me that just asking a single simple question can be even more effective – and will drive much a better response.

    Theres_Treasure_EverywhereWe also realized that available data from YouTube and our other partners could be parsed and interpreted by hand – and combined with our internal data –to create real insights. So while our team of Big Data folks slaved away in the corner, we hired a smart data analyst who began cranking out real insights with essentially the little scraps of data left on the table after the big boys finished eating.

    All of that really started helping the business. We learned, for example, that our DNews audience liked certain sorts of stories on certain days. So we launched “Space Fridays” to capitalize on one of those insights. We started seeing real patterns that let us increase the shareability of our content dramatically. And we started using those insights to deliver dramatic growth among some of our newer and older properties, including Animalist, Rev3Games and Scam School.

    And then, towards the end of the year, I started talking with a fascinating new company that promises to deliver much of the insight of big data, but through a cloud-based and rapid data ingest and analysis service called DBMiner. We’re still working on a trial with them, but I’m optimistic that this will be a great middle ground between adopting a priesthood of big data and digging around for insights on your own.

    Oh, and don’t expect “Big Data” – even when you do get it all really working — to be the Holy Grail either. According to my friend Mark Anderson – CEO of Strategic News Service and one of the smartest analysts and futurist in the business – next year we’ll be worrying more about Big Visualization. Or in other words just because you’ve got all that data warehoused, you still need great systems to help you really “see” inside, and extract real actionable knowledge.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Big Data. We’ll see lots of value going forward from our initiatives there. But just because you’re working on a big project, don’t forget that all sorts of insights are there for the taking – or the asking – just by poking around. To your data scientists they might be rocks, grubs and weird roots. But for the rest of us those insights are great treasure.

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

    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

    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

    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!

    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.