YouTube Original Channels: Vlogbrother Shares Lessons Learned

YouTube Original Channels: Vlogbrother Shares Lessons Learned

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Much was made last year about YouTube reaching down deep to fund the Original Channels Initiative last year.  Was it a success?  Well, a little less than half of those channels were selected for additional funding, and the way YouTube went about this funding: granting creators a few million, and only being able to profit after getting YouTube that money back, most of the channels have had a very hard time paying off that initial investment.  Hank Green of the Vlogbrothers has written an excellent piece that shares the lessons he’s learned on the Initiative, and I thought I’d break it down.  Hat tip, Nalts.

Lessons Hank Green Learned About the YouTube Original Channels Initiative

Hank lays out three major lessons he learned, but he makes some great points before he gets to that.  The first one concerns well-funded TV-like channels, which got up to $5 million to launch:

What we all found out is that, no matter how hard you push them and how much money you spend on them, YouTube doesn’t work like TV…and funding it that way is daft.

What Green is getting at here is that YouTube is a content-driven medium.  It really doesn’t matter if your show looks awesome and is pushed like the next greatest thing on TV.  Online video requires good content to draw an audience and keep an audience.

Green estimates that the only original channel that made its advance back is SourceFed.  It’s easy to see why: SourceFed comes out with 4-5 episodes a day (all of which hit the 100k view mark), is cheaply produced, and comes from the highly popular Philip DeFranco, who pushed his channel and made it fun for everyone who already enjoyed his brand:

Hank and John Green both got to produce SciShow and CrashCourse based on the money handed out from YouTube.  But he estimates they will only pay their advance back in three years.  But most won’t come close.

Here’s SciShow:

Anyway, here’s the three lessons Green says should be learned, spun in my own way here:

1. Quality content, not necessarily quality production values.

I feel like this gets said in some form every month on this site.  YouTube should really look at SourceFed as a model.  It looks good enough.  But mainly it’s engaging hosts talking in front of a white background.  It’s them putting a funny spin on the news.  It’s quick, it’s entertaining.  Better yet, they can produce tons of content per day.  Subscribers to SourceFed not only see 4-5 news stories a day, but stuff like “Table Talk” which is exactly what it sounds like.  And they do tons of movie reviews where they get other users to submit their take on the movie in question.

But not everybody can create content more than once or twice a week.  Their content needs to be prepared over time.  And they need to make sure that content is good, because a week is a long time to wait for redemption if it isn’t.

2. People who make online video are better at making it than people who do TV for a living.

It seems like there would be a natural transition for professional TV producers to be able to make “bite-sized” content, but it really is a different kind of game when it comes to online video.  There’s a certain language to online video: it’s quick and to the point and it needs to stay that way for the most part.  And while lots of money was given to star producers, it’s the people who understand how to create and market online video that ended up succeeding.

3. Content created for viewers trumps content created for advertisers.

I like what Green says here:

When advertising agencies tell you they want something (higher quality content, long-form content, specific demographics, lean-back content, stuff that looks like tv) it’s not our job to attempt to deliver those things.

Green says that content is made for viewers, not for advertisers.  If content is made for advertisers then it starts becoming something else: you may know what your audience is and what they like, but if an advertiser has a different idea so that they can uphold brand image or something, then you’ll be tailoring content not for your viewers (a wide spectrum), but to those who are footing the bill (a narrower spectrum).  They might have the money but it’s your viewers who decide whether you’re going to be successful.

Green sees that YouTube has learned at least the first two lessons, citing YouTube’s new philosophy to give more online video producers smaller grants.  As to the advertisers, he hopes that they figure out how to work with the medium rather than changing it to meet its needs.

Very good stuff from Green here.  Click here to see the whole thing.


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