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.

September 22, 2013

Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube (with apologies to “Dumb Ways to Die”) Part 1

Filed under: Commentary,Internet TV — Tags: , , , — Jim @ 9:38 am
Dumb Ways to Die

Dumb Ways to Die

As YouTube has become more of an institution, more and more brands and newcomers are attempting to stake out a place on the biggest video platform on the internet. And as they do, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
Also, as the site changes and matures, things that worked five years ago are no longer the smartest ways to build audiences and get views. This multi-part series will explore a variety of ways to deep-six your YouTube investment.

PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET: When Revision3 first got serious about YouTube back in 2008, we created a Revision3 channel and dumped all of our shows into it. That was less than successful. After carefully watching (read copying) those more successful than us, we started creating separate channels for each of our shows. Only then did we start to see traction for Diggnation, Film Riot, Scam School and our other popular shows.

But for some reason YouTube decided that it was smarter to follow the single channel model when it started doling out its $200 million dollars to launch new channels. Almost all of the channels (including our own TechFeed) shoved 7 or more separate shows into a single channel. Smarter YouTube experts – including Phil DeFranco with SourceFed and the Green Brothers with SciShow – resisted the advice. Unsurprisingly their single-show channels were among the few breakout successes, while most of the multi-show channels have faded into irrelevance.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, though, I still see media companies and other brands new to YouTube trying to load a slate of disparate shows into one channel. It still doesn’t work – and is clearly a recipe for failure.

Why? Because the way users consume YouTube content is very different from traditional TV. The “subscription” reigns supreme on YouTube, as the path to success is by amassing the biggest pile of subscribers you can. That’s because nearly half of all views are consumed via the feed of new programming that sits on the left side of the screen – and your subscribers are the ones that will push early sharing, comments and social buzz that will drive your views even higher among non-subscribers.

But if you have multiple shows in one channel, they have to *all* appeal to your subscribers for it to work. A variety of different shows, with different audience profiles, just won’t work. That’s because you’ll end up flooding your subscribers’ feed with shows they just aren’t interested in, and they’ll end up either ignoring your feed-entries or unsubscribing.

There are ways it can work – but it’s by creating variants of the same show rather than a variety of different shows. Check out two of our bigger channels – Rev3Games and SourceFed. Both use the same stable of 3-4 hosts and create variations on an existing show theme, rather than creating separate and distinct shows. So Rev3Games has video game “Reviews”, “Previews” and “Casual Fridays” – but all with the same mission of providing intelligent, personality-driven coverage of video gaming. Similarly SourceFed ties their daily news/lifestyle coverage with segments on “Today in History” and conversational round-tables like “Truth or Dare” and “Comment Commentary”.

Contrast that to the relative wasteland of “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls”, Rodale’s “3V” or “the Intelligent Channel” – all destinations that tried to put a disparate lineup of shows into one channel and haven’t gained a lot of traction.
Next time we’ll dive into how these sorts of problems could be identified, and possibly discovered, before it was too late.

This column (and the entire series) also showed up on Video Ink here.

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