Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Beauty & the blog (or how a quirky girl is beating the brands at their own game)

For centuries we had more or less a singular notion of female beauty, based largely on Western Anglo-Saxon features and symmetry. Some have even mathematically mapped the configuration of facial beauty.



As per the diagram above, what we see as beauty has a geometric structure, and it turns out, formula. To adhere to the ideal you should have no more than x number of inches between your eyes, y inches between nose and mouth, cheeks should conform to some sort of Pi R squared formula, etc. And after all the calculations a standard of beauty was produced that was widely circulated, and then accepted by most as ‘the’ standard. As media forms proliferated – first print, then television and film – the standards of beauty didn’t change all that much. Yes, things slowly expanded to include more ethnicities and nationalities, but generally mainstream beauty had a definition that was shared across continents for decades, if not centuries.

And then we entered the fast lane. As it has done with so many things, the Internet has enabled a broadening of standards and definitions of beauty. This is primarily because those who previously did not have a voice in the conversation – namely those who did not fit into the pre-ordained categories – were now able to have a voice, and a publishing platform. It started with websites and then expanded to blogs, YouTube channels, and proliferated rapidly and voluminously with Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts.

How large is this cohort of which I speak? I can’t seem to find a tally of the number of beauty blogs on the Internet, but I think a safe estimate would be tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands worldwide. There is data that indicates that onYouTube, beauty-related channels represent 15 billion cumulative views, growing at rate of around 750 million to 800 million views per month, putting such video channels in the ranks of some of the most popular ones out there.



















Several things are interesting about these statistics. For one thing, brands (e.g. Revlon, L’Oreal, etc) account for around 3% of these views. And that is not for lack of trying. These companies spend not trifling resources and dollars creating videos expressly for disemmination online, but on average, such videos receive views in the thousands.

As an example, the screen shot below is taken from L’Oreal’s YouTube channel for its U.S. based business, and was grabbed in mid July 2014. It shows the range of videos, and the view count, for videos uploaded over the past two months.

Click to enlarge

Some quick math: That’s 39,221 views, across ten videos, for an average of 3,922 views for each one. And some more quick math: if beauty-related videos are being watched at a rate of 800 million views per month and L’Oreal, one of the world’s largest cosmetic firms, is pulling in just a few thousand views per video on average, then the bulk of the views are probably coming from somewhere else.

But this is not a unsolved mystery. The overwhelming majority, as in 97% + of the views, are coming from videos created by an army of bloggers and vloggers, many of which are 1-person shows, operating from their couch or bedroom, with a camera that probably cost less than $20. No scripts, no directors, no budgets. Just talking to camera about their purchases, their finds, and tips and tricks. A portion of these bloggers have sponsorship deals with cosmetic companies, which means they get sent products to use and review (and are required to disclose as such when that’s the case). There are an elite few who are stars in the field, such as Michelle Phan, featured in this earlier blog post but for the most part beauty bloggers are as various as shades of nail polish and most are unknown except among their cadre of devoted followers.

As readers of this blog will know, I have a particular interest in the unusual and off-center, the things that can and/or do first get exposure, and then a following, on the self-serve audio, video, and text platforms that are now part of our everyday online experience. This is a new phenomenon because previously these people could not get into the system, let alone have the chance to find their audience. Hence my interest in tracking the journey from the margins to niches and then sometimes to thriving niches, and once in a while beyond that to large scale success.

I have turned the blog spotlight on such people in the past and today, another person of interest: 20-something Texan Bunny Meyer. She blogs under the name Grav3yard Girl and in no way does she conform to the industry’s definitions of beauty, grace, and artifice. Bunny presents herself unglamorously more often she does glamorously and though I haven’t been a teenage girl in a good many years I have to say she’s the one that probably would have been the most fun to hang out with in high school.

                                 

Being a good ol’ southern girl she confesses a love for Chick-Fil-A, alligators, and sweet tea. Her fans are called the Swamp Family and she even has her own Swamp Family line of t-shirts and accessories on Etsy.

Most of the time we see Bunny looking like this:


or this:

or this:

and only occasionally do we see her looking like this:



The likes of  Scarlett Johansson or Anne Hathaway might indulge is the occassional less than optimal selfie but as a career habit? Nuh uh. When we see celebrities stripped of makeup or in unflattering poses it tends to be because one of those front racked at the supermarket tabloids snapped them when they weren’t looking, not because they chose to present themselves that way. For Bunny Meyer it’s a big part of her personal brand.

So, not only does Bunny break the beauty and fashion world rules of putting only your best, most fixed up face forward, she also breaks the conventions of YouTube. Her videos are long – most are in the 15 minute range -- whereas most vloggers’ videos run maybe 3 to 4 minutes.  And there’s really something strangely compelling about her videos. She definitely overflows with personality but tell me if you don’t get pulled into listening her to talk about thrift shopping and her recent assaults by retail personnel. 


If she’d had a producer I’m sure s/he would have counselled Bunny to make shorter videos and to pull back the spazziness a few notches, and maybe not do extended monologues about her interest in the paranormal and possible encounters with alien beings. A producer would likely have told her it was off topic and therefore bound to alienate (no pun intended) viewers.

…And that advice would have been a mistake. The result of Bunny doing things Bunny’s way: 3.2 million subscribers and 282 million views as of mid July 2014. She is currently getting a million views a day / 30 million views monthly and is the 750th most popular channel on YouTube according to view count, and 150th for subscriber count. You can see how her channel has grown in popularity in the chart below. Bunny started posting to YouTube at the end of 2010, had a slow 2011, but she kept going, and by 2012 was netting a few million views a month which turned into 10 million views a month by mid 2013 and 30 million views a month by mid 2014.



In total, Bunny has close to 700 videos on her channel and is posting news ones at a rate of 4 to 5 per week, which, which is an ambitious production schedule, and I don’t know if she has assistance with editing or running what is now a small media empire. In other words Bunny is producing about an hour of new video content each week, which, in a TV world would cost in the hundreds of thousands to million range, and involve a crew of a few dozen people. Even if Bunny now has a helper I think it’s safe to say that her costs are considerably lower. Depending on the ad rates she is receiving on YouTube (it varies greatly from channel to channel) she is probably making somewhere between $1000-$5000/day in advertising revenue (of which approximately 45% usually goes to YouTube).

Bunny’s is a career built primarily on two platforms: YouTube, where has a legion of over 3 million followers, and Instagram, where she has close to a million followers. Her numbers on Facebook and Twitter are considerably smaller, about half a million and 250,000 respectively. But that makes perfect sense. Facebook and Twitter are, increasingly, where people’s parents hang out. And brands. Bunny and her followers are about a rejection of the way things are ‘supposed’ to be done and an embracing,  not a covering up of, imperfection, and the weirdo within.

As one of her fans put it :

“…not too long ago I discovered Grav3yardgirl, or Bunny Meyer, and she's one of the most positive internet personalities out there and is SUCH a great role model for girls. I really love how she has odd facial features (not necessarily ugly, but deemed ugly by many people), and she owns the absolute shit out of them and flaunts her confidence. They're what make her unique, and the fact that she's confident despite the nasty comments from other people, makes her all the more beautiful.”
                             
A big part of Bunny’s success online is exactly that; i.e. the way her fans relate to her. Not as someone shaped by managers and agents, not as a product of industry, but as an individual, created by no one other than herself. In earlier times she would not have been able to reach a million people a day operating either largely or entirely on her own, but this is a new world. And it is now competing head to head with the old world. Where things go from here will be interesting to see. Will she continue operating independently as a YouTuber? With the kind of numbers she has I would think this is certainly an option. Will she get offered sponsorship or endorsement deals? I'd be surprised if that hasn't already happened. Will she get cast in a TV show, or her own line of makeup or clothing? All possible. With the hard work of amassing the audience already done, someone like Bunny Meyer, should she be interested, brings the huge value of a built-in audience and a cool-but-not-in-the-usual-way sensibility to any company or product she chooses to work with. But the bigger win is to us, in that we the people kind of way, because Bunny has been successful in adding some elasticity to notions of beauty and cool, which for too long have been unnecessarily rigid and limiting.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The problem with piecharts

AM/FM radio accounts for 52.1% of music listening claimed the headline. But how could that be? We're constantly reading about the death of conventional media and the dominance of streaming and cloud services. Not only that, but people are now consuming media on demand, where they want, when they want, and as many times in a row as they want.

How then, could old-fashioned radio still be in the lead?

A closer look at the statistics is called for. So here we go. This is Edison Research's Share of Ear piechart, which is actually more of a lifesaver/mint, really, but that doesn't sound as good. So piechart it is.



Click to enlarge

First of all, Edison Research is reporting audio consumption via radio, not music consumption. Listening to talk radio, sports broadcasts, weather forecasts, and traffic updates are all being lumped into the number. So that's error number one. Not an error made by Edison Research, but an error made in the retelling of the story. Edison states that it's audio they're talking about, while some of the services that picked up the story used 'radio' and 'music' interchangeably, and they're very different things. This kind of slack-uracy happens not infrequently, particularly when statistics are being cited or studies are being quoted.

Also important to consider is what is missing from the pie. Just because it looks like a full circle doesn't mean slices or ingredients aren't missing. Conspicuously absent from this analysis, in order of magnitude:

YouTube 


We've suspected it for years but as of 2012 we have evidence from Nielsen statistics that about 65% of teens are using YouTube as their primary source of music 'listening'. Whether it's one of a bunch of windows open on their screen, or as a video embedded in a Facebook newsfeed, or as a video converted to MP3,  or as a selectable playlist in the thumbnail section, the origin of the music 'listening' is YouTube. To not include the video platform, with its 1 billion+ monthly users, as a source of music consumption is a big oversight, and points to the limitations of existing categories and terminology when dealing with the new forms, habits, and behaviors that accompany new technologies.

SoundCloud

Yes, YouTube is not only a central repository and destination for video, it also serves the same purpose for music. But that doesn't mean there's not a whole 'nother YouTube for music. Because there is. It's called SoundCloud, and it's the world's second largest music streaming service. Second to Spotify? To Pandora? No. Second to YouTube. The site boasts 250 million users per month and 12 hours of audio uploaded every minute (contrast with YouTube's 100 hours of video uploaded each minute).

The idea behind SoundCloud: anyone can upload any audio they want to, so it quickly became home to DJ's mixes, mashups, hip hop mixtapes, and even cassette mixtapes, converted to digital. Annotating, commenting, sharing, and reposting are built-in features on SoundCloud, so when something gains traction on the site, dissemination can occur at lightning speed. To date there's been no monetization taking place on SoundCloud, so there have been no payments to artists. However, in the last few weeks there have been rumblings about the introduction of a subscription service, in addition to a gradual increase in the number of takedown notices the service has been issuing to uploaders. Like so many digital platforms, issues of legality are initially put aside, and either norms change or the site's policies change, often a result of shareholder pressure. Plus, the cost of a copyright lawsuit, relative to a potentially multi-billion dollar valuation, make flouting the law a reasonable plan. For a while at least.





Vevo, Vimeo, other?

Vevo is sometimes called 'the Hulu of music videos' (have you noticed that everything is the_______ of ______, and half the time we don't really know one _______ from the other?). What this analogy means is that the parties posting the videos have the right to do so. They are the copyright holders. In the case of Hulu, it's the broadcasters. In the case of Vevo it's a consortium of the major music labels, specifically Universal, Sony, and EMI, who do a revenue share with Google (owner of YouTube) on the advertising. But wouldn't Vevo's numbers get counted with YouTube's numbers, you ask? Yes, when its videos are being viewed on YouTube. But Vevo is also available as an app on Apple TV, and that listening/viewing would not be reflected in the YouTube stats.

Same thing goes for Vimeo. It has over 100 million monthly users and in addition to videos that appear on YouTube it is also available as an app for mobile devices (including tablets), where somewhere between 20 and 25% of Vimeo usage occurs. Also missing from the share of ear chart above is online radio stations whose live streams and podcasts can be accessed on desktops and laptops (I know that's how I sometimes listen to music online). And there's also the music we encounter at restaurants, the gym, and in stores that we can now use tools such as Shazam to identify and then share the information. This ability to interact, on the spot, and to announce our discoveries to those in our social network, is unique to digital, networked media, and replaces some of the functions once provided by disc jockeys, journalists, word of mouth, or that know-it-all guy in your group who was an encyclopedia of rockology and only too happy to illuminate everyone. Oh, and because we're talking numbers, Shazam has over 5 billion songs tagged in its database and more than 250 million users.

So, when we consider all of these unaccounted sources together, what do we see? A few things. We have share of ear and share of eye sometimes conflating into one. Just as the activity formerly known as 'watching TV' is now done on a variety of devices for a variety of durations with a variety of genres that are not 30 or 60 minute programs, so too does 'listening to radio' no longer offer an accurate description of the activity of music consumption. We still have passive consumption, in which radio or music lives in the background. But we now also have active consumption (e.g. assembling playlists, uploading mixes, posting and sharing links). And, as our media habits become more complex and varied we have continuous partial attention, a relative of, but not the same as multitasking.

To help provide a sense of the landscape of digital entertainment that we used to call 'radio' or 'TV' (but increasingly these terms are restrictive at worst and misleading at best) I have pulled together some numbers and notes on the more popular online audio and video platforms. Note that not every one is included in this analysis. It's a highly fragmented market, with upstarts emerging from anywhere and everywhere, so a year from now you may well ask why 'Service X' was not included here (e.g. Beats Audio, recently acquired by Apple currently has just a few hundred thousand subscribers, but who knows, they could well be major players -- or not -- a year or two from now. Stranger things have happened).

Something interesting to think about while looking at these numbers is the speed with which the services that are native to digital got to tens and hundreds of millions of users (and over a billion, in the case of YouTube), while the organizations with an analog legacy or arm of the business have been much slower to gain traction.



July 1st newsflash: Since this post was written, Google has made another play in the online music market with the acquisition of Songza (not included in the table above, as the listener base is ~4-5 million per month. That may now change).


This post was compiled while viewing Katy Perry's Part of Me, on Netflix. (Is that audio, video, app, or multitasking?).

 By the way, if I've left anything glaring (or even trivial but interesting) out of the tally and the assumptions, do let me know in the comments section. I thank you.






Related Posts: 

Podcasting: Art, Craft, or Reaching the Niches
Music Hack Day

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reintermediation Watch: The tale of YouTube and the Multi-channel Networks


Access, on its own, used to be power. But when everyone has access, as is currently the case with media forms, where does the power go? This is an ongoing theme of this blog and today we'll look at the see-saw that has disintermediation perched on one end and reintermediation at the other.


So, what are these polysyllabic opposing forces of which you speak? Fear not, they're really just a couple of hundred dollar phrases to describe the removal of intermediaries, or middlemen, from processes that traditionally bring the producers or manufacturers of goods and services in contact with audiences and/or customers. That's part one, the disintermediation. It then may be followed by part two, the replacement of these systems, but in different forms. Disintermediation has become a hallmark of the digital era in which we live as many things have become liberated from cases, boxes, and warehouses, and can flow freely as digitalia in the connected networks that make up our communications environment.

But it's not really a scenario in which there are no middlemen. People are still using online platforms, under the control of others, with terms set by others, to get their wares out there; so direct-to-consumer (D2C) or direct-to-fan (D2F) as a way of describing a business is somewhat overstated. But, to not see the reduced power of intermediaries in these scenarios is to miss a big part of the shift.

I once heard a major music label executive use the phrase ‘the physics of the web’ to describe how the labels had to learn, the hard way, not to get in the way of fan activity online, but to let it flourish, as ultimately it was going to happen anyway, and often it would confer other benefits on the artist. In the past 8 or so years online we’ve seen huge amounts of disintermediation take place, and my interest has been in the mapping it in relation to the creative industries.

In the early days of this blog I posted about the counter force of reintermediation online, with a look at some of the changes taking place in the way musicians can now operate. Such reintermediation is the response of a disintermediated and therefore highly fragmented marketplace to a whole a new set of problems to deal with, like a glut of products and services, which is the excess we get when the intermediaries or gatekeepers are not necessary to get into the system. And the smaller players, with limited to no marketing budgets, are now competing with the big players that can have big budgets, sales teams, strategic plans, and all the other advantages that go with being aligned with a corporate entity.

Continuing with this look at reintermediation today we look at a trio of events that have transpired over the past eight weeks or so, that demonstrate the extent to which reintermediation has not just taken hold, but has caught the attention of some of the largest power brokers in the mainstream media landscape. The site of all the activity is on YouTube, where companies called MCNs, or multi-channel networks, have recently become the beneficiaries of deals worth hundreds of millions, and in the orbit of a billion dollars.

Yes, the big bucks are increasingly paying attention to YouTube, and here’s why. Because the ‘heterogeneous mess’, as a colleague has called the site, both benefits and suffers from too much of everything. It’s a great thing in theory but in practice is not navigable. If you don’t know where to start on YouTube, you’ll never get started. If you do have a starting point ….on your way to that place known as the rabbit hole, where time stops, and the next thing you know you’ve been clicking around on your iPad on a work or school night and it’s 2 a.m.
The MCN’s are an antidote to the chaos.


Are the MCN's a perfect solution to the problem of content coming at us in all forms, from all sides, all of the time? No. But working better than YouTube’s original channel experiment of 2012-2013,, which saw close to $300 million, all told, doled out to both big name and small name content people, in an attempt to create more of a TV like viewing experience on the video platform.

So, you're wondering, what function do the MCNs perform? Wasn't the whole point of platforms like YouTube to remove the intermediaries, to make it possible for individuals to just post whatever the heck they wanted, for people to be able to view whatever the heck they wanted, as much as they wanted, and to be able to pass videos along, without the interference of any third parties? Well, yes. Kind of. Nice theory, but the bottleneck created by too many videos and not enough ways to differentiate them, either by creator or theme, left a void, or some would say created an opportunity.

Enter the MCNs, which are essentially the online video world's version of a ‘roll up’. The concept comes from the world of investment and refers to efficiencies and advantages that become available when several small component parts are consolidated– in this case YouTube channels, some of which can be as basic as a 1-person show. The MCNs have salespeople and strategists that, if they do their jobs correctly, get better ad rates for the YouTubers, better distribution, and better promotion than they could obtain on their own. On the advertising side of the equation there is less risk for the brands buying the ads, because instead of getting placement in a run of raw, unfiltered YouTubery, they get inventory with a proven audience and an appeal to a specific demographic. Think, e.g., beauty bloggers and cosmetics companies, teenage boy comedy and skater fashions, food bloggers and grocery stores, or mega brands like Kraft.

At the recent MIP television conference, held annually in Cannes, an speaker representing one of the MCNs explained it best. We used to think in terms of audience. We now think in terms of fanbases. And fanbases are what the MCNs traffic in, in a way that that initiatives that begin at the corporate level and try to ‘reach out to street level’ cannot. We’ve seen it tried dozens of times and we’ve seen it fail almost as many. So where is the corporate media money now going? Large chunks of it are going to the MCNs. In mid April, in a deal valued at $900 million, Disney acquired MCN Maker Studios, home to such YouTube channels as PewDiePie, Epic Rap Battles of History, and Philip deFranco, representing millions of views per day and several billion views at the aggregate level.




A few weeks later Viacom, parent company of MTV and Comedy Central, acquired a non-controlling stake in Defy Media. Defy is a multi-platform media company (with both online and offline properties) that focuses on content for 13-34 year olds. Their YouTube MCN is home to such channels as: comedy duo Smosh, pratfall and prank site Break.com, and celebrity news channel Clevver TV. The basic stats on those channels, to the end of June 2014 are:


Consider these figures in light of a recent report on the Top 500 non-entertainment brands on YouTube, that means channels operated by companies whose primary business is not entertainment. On average their YouTube channels have 82,000 subscribers, and that's up from 37,000 a year earlier. A huge jump, but their numbers pale into comparison to thousands of YouTubers, many working as 1 person shows. If the brands can't get the numbers on their own their next best strategy is to piggyback where the views actually are happening.
And because things happens in threes -- or at least that's when we start really paying attention to them -- this past week the news broke that Time Warner is in negotiations with Vice, the bad boy media company profiled in this recent blog post. If the deal goes through Vice will be valued in excess of $2 billion. Rupert Murdoch, of News Corp. and 21st Century Fox fame, acquired a 5% stake in Vice back in the summer of 2013, and for those need to be reminded, he purchased MySpace for $580 million in 2005 (when Facebook was unknown save for a select group of college campuses) and we all know what happened there.Will this latest round of re-intermediation end up like MySpace, where the corporate cash infusion and mindset allegedly sank the ship, or will it lead to evidence that media properties developed outside of the conventional systems of power and influence can get a seat at the table, and do so by entering through the side door. We watch and we wait.




Extra credit section: Not everyone is of the opinion that disintermediation is a good thing for the creative industries. For more on this topic see this article on the downside of disintermediation by intellectual property lawyer Terry Hart.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

YouTube: When the going gets weird…


Each day I aspire to have what I call a YouTube miracle. It’s my own kind of religious experience, when I’m able to find, quite unexpectedly, footage that I thought could not possibly exist, never existed, or was long lost to the ravages of time. Examples: in the past week I have been able to find Iggy Pop interviewing the mysterious man of the electric violin, the late Nash the Slash, on an unidentified cable access show from the early 1980s . And if that wasn’t enough I then happened upon a video that consisted of nothing more than a still image of council housing, located somewhere in London, accompanied by the sounds of a pirate radio station that once emanated from the area in the 1990s.



On the other hand there’s a YouTube that desperately needs to steal advertising dollars from the world of broadcast television. The other week I caught wind of news that YouTube is starting to promote some of its personalities via traditional media, such as television, magazines, billboards, and subway ads. Of course there’s nothing wrong with this, nothing at all. Why not take some born on YouTube success stories, put some marketing dollars into them, and see if you can notch up the audience level from X to Y. Makes sense to me.

So, you may wonder, which YouTubers were chosen for this inaugural outside of YouTube marketing campaign? Did they choose the YouTubers with the most subscribers, or the most views? No, because that would be this guy, 24 year old Swede Felix Kjellberg, who goes by the moniker PewDiePie and does play by play of himself playing video games, puts the video up on YouTube and at present is averaging about 10 million views per day has 4.5 billion views in total, and is reported to be earning $4 million per year. Instead, they went further down to the view list, to people with a fraction of the views of PewDiePie, to a trio of young female YouTubers whose video landscapes cover food, fashion, hair, and makeup.

I speak of these people:

Beauty blogger Michelle Phan, who boasts 6.4 million subscribers, close to a billion views, and is also a spokesperson for L’Oreal and has her own line of makeup with them, called Em Cosmetics.



Food blogger Rosanna Pansino, with 2 million subscribers and over 300 million views for her videos that show you how to make things like Rubik Cube brownies and Captain America birthday cakes.


And the third YouTuber that's part of the current advertising-outside-of-YouTube campaign is self-described “fashion/beauty/fun” blogger Bethany Mota, with six million subscribers and about 500 million views. She's sort of a teenage/DIY version of Ladies Home Journal, with videos on topics like Easter food and fashion tips.



Outdoor ad for select YouTube channels 

According to this article, ads for these YouTube channels are appearing on television channels with strong youth audiences, such as the CW, and magazines that appeal to young women, such as Allure and Seventeen. Subway stations in NYC and Chicago are also carrying ads for these YouTube channels that skew heavily to a female youth demographic.

All of this got me thinking about how there is a huge chasm between the mainstream and the magical moments on YouTube. The former being videos on makeup, food, and decorating, which are really just five minute versions of the thirty minute TV shows we already know. The latter being things like the deep archival material that lives on the platform -- as referenced a few paragraphs ago -- and the bounty of fringe and outsider culture which for the first time has a chance to reach a global audience. Perhaps not a huge audience, in mainstream terms, but a worldwide one nonetheless.

I’ve been tracking some of this data on spreadsheets for a while now, so I see the prolific activity that is happening in strange and still largely unknown corners of YouTube. Material that has unmistakably found a consistent audience of, say, tens to hundreds of thousands views per day, maybe not millions per day, but not a trivial amount. With the right systems in place could these slim niches become fatter niches, or perhaps break out beyond the category of niche and into something more substantial, though still shy of blockbuster status? This is not a problem of the inherent appeal or quality of the content but, rather, a problem of matching the right content to the right people. There are undoubtedly people, who, if they knew YouTube channel X existed would be likely to enjoy what is has to offer. But at present there is no perfect system for bringing audiences and viewers together.

Broadcasting is an imperfect system, but a powerful one. What will YouTube’s television, magazine, and billboard promotion of already popular YouTubers tell us? Most likely that middle of the road content that is already popular at the level of a few billion aggregate views can become even more popular. From a business point of view this may well solve some of YouTube’s immediate concerns, such as the ability to charge television-like prices for its ads. But what a shame that YouTube didn’t extend (or hasn’t yet, to give them the benefit of the doubt) its current experiment to its cornucopia of less obvious, less mainstream material.

As Internet and legal scholar Tim Wu has put it, the titans of the Internet era, such as Amazon, Google, YouTube (owned by Google), and eBay are “big dogs with long tails”, meaning that their businesses are predicated on, and depend on, a proliferation of both the big markets at one end of the spectrum and the niche markets that are able to exist in these digital, small incremental cost, times. So, while YouTube’s current experiment, of promoting already popular, mainstream-appeal content creators is likely to make this form of popular culture even more popular the boat that’s being missed, I believe, is the creation of a system that brings more of the platform’s ‘unpopular culture’, for want of a better term, to the surface. This could, in turn, transform thousands and thousands of slim niches into thousands of thousands of mid-sized ones. And who knows, hidden in that haystack could be the next Vice, whose journey from the absolute margins of popular culture to billion dollar media empire is told in this earlier blog post. With fewer way stations than ever between audiences and creators the unlikely is now more likely to happen. The question now becomes, will the unlikely ever get the helping hand of marketing dollars, to bump it up from unpopular culture to somewhat popular culture? And how much does that matter? With small enough production budgets can big enough audiences be just that, big enough? And maybe, just maybe, this opportunity lies not within YouTube/Google but within the entrepreneurial community, who may see a future in thousands of small sparks, not just a few massive bonfires.

Bonus plug section: For those interested in learning more about YouTube's challenges in attracting TV dollars and big name brands I recently co-authored a business school case on the topic, which can be found here.