Sunday, February 22, 2015

Notes from Podcamp: Fragmentation Nation

An interest, nay, preoccupation of mine for the past few years has been not just the fragmentation of the media marketplace, but the ultra-fragmentation. The podcasts, blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, and Vine accounts, music streaming services and Souncloud, YouTube channels, and  the rest of the sites, apps, and platforms that make it possible for anyone, anywhere to publish or broadcast their wares. And this is so much more than the fragmentation we came to know from, e.g, cable television or satellite radio. This is an exponential phenomenon that is often more than we can fathom -- and at the same time is becoming the norm. Trying to use a pie chart to illustrate the point is, for these purposes, essentially useless.

This week marks two years since I started writing this blog, and when I look back at the first post I am reminded of all the media forms that have emerged even since that time and also of how new intermediaries of the digital world are accumulating audience, and in turn, power in a way that the titans of the old broadcasting world did. Hopefully this is more than just ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’, but I suppose time will tell.

Nevertheless, in this world of publishing plenty, of the millions of blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and websites, catering to every niche out there, the new axiom seems to be:

if you can imagine it, it exists

Our media diet has gone from one of limited choices that were fed to us to one that grows unchecked each day on which we can gorge ourselves. How this works, from the perspectives of logistics, economics, production, and consumption is a work in progress, and is why I do this blog.

That’s why attending events like Podcamp, as I did this past weekend, can be so interesting. It’s an ‘unconference’, meaning it’s participant-driven, not organizationally or corporately driven, and is typically free to attend. I’ve gone to the last two held in Toronto, and in both cases about 1000 people converged on the campus of Ryerson to take in this ‘let’s put on a show’, with panels taking the place of song and dance numbers. Real stories from real people doing their blogs, vlogs, and podcasts, from reasons ranging from hobby to job.

Today Part 1 of some notes from Podcamp, followed by Part 2 in the days to come. 

A selection of Toronto Podcampers, February 2015

Just a few of the sessions on offer at Podcamp 2015

I popped in and out of a number of sessions but one that not only stood out, but also spoke to the larger themes of how we arrived at this point in the media timeline and where we might be headed, was hosted by James Wilkinson. James’ website describes his skill set as: Interaction Design, User Experience, Content Strategy, Social Media, Web Design, Creative Direction, Mobile Applications, Web Development ...which makes it reasonable to assume this guy knows what he’s talking about. (Note: You never really know at an unconference, so caveat emptor, etc).

The session was called “The future of content consumption”, but rather than being one of those bleary-eyed looks at a Jetsonian utopia, it was as much about the past as it was about what is to come. In framing the then vs. now James put things simply yet succinctly.  “Someone else used to create, someone else used to curate.”

As you'll note in the slides below, it took us thousands of years to get from smoke signals to the telegraph, but only about twenty to get from the rise of the consumer Internet in the mid 1990s to the social media juggernauts of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter -- and the device that changed everything, the iPhone.

Previously expensive, fairly specialized gear, all squeezed into one chocolate bar sized gadget.

The new norm is billions of pieces of content, made by us, made for us, recommended to us, targeted to us, or sought out by us, and across a panoply of screens that many own: phone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, wearable device. There’s also the “Internet of things”, in which computing capabilities are embedded in objects ranging from appliances to clothing, furniture, and even pills. You probably don’t think about it, but today’s cars now have millions of lines of code in them.

A miniature Times Square at Toronto's Yonge-Dundas Square
The takeaway: Get used to more connections, across more screens. And these screens include not just the ones in your pocket or your home, but also ones in public places. To this end, here’s a new acronym for you: DOOH. Which is not to be confused with Homer Simpson’s D’oh. DOOH stands for digital out of home, a type of digital signage found in outdoor, retail, and special event environments, that has the ability to communicate directly to us, and vice-versa. There already is, and will continue to be, an increasing seamlessness between our own screens and these screens. The digital signage at McDonald’s and Tim Horton’s or downtown plazas is just the beginning.

“The future is smart”, said Wilkinson. “And scary”, said an audience member.

Whether or not it’s as scary as some would lead us to believe is another one for the  “remains to be seen” file. There has always been techno-fear mongering and while some of it certainly has a basis, I’ll take the net benefits of technology over a world without it any day. It’s obviously a much larger debate, and one that I’m not going to get into here, but to grossly oversimplify things, it’s the price we pay for 'always on' media and on-demand information and entertainment...and the fact that we directly  ‘pay’ for very little of it. So payment takes other forms. Deal with it? Yes, we're all trying.

In Part 2 of this post, a look at the realities, and advantages, of working in a content niche. 

Related Posts: 

Podcasting: Art, Craft, or Reaching the Niches?
Podcasts outnumber Broadcasts 2-to-1 on iTunes charts
Why PBS moved from 'owned & operated' media to YouTube

Friday, February 6, 2015

YouTubers in 2015 Part 2: A king of trivia and a girl-next-door beauty blogger

The celebration of the 10th anniversary of YouTube continues here on the blog, with Part 2 of a look at the state of YouTube creators aka 'YouTubers' in 2015. (Click here for Part 1, featuring one of the people behind the Annoying Orange, aka the unofficial cartoon of YouTube).

By now you may know about some of the biggest YouTube stars out there, such as PewDiePieSmosh, Jenna Marbles, and The Fine Brothers. These are people with millions of subscribers and billions of views, and while the names may not be familiar to you, the videos may well be. And if you have kids under 15 or so, that is almost definitely the case.

But these billionaires of YouTube views like The Fine Bros., producers of the "People React To..." videos, are the exception. More interesting -- to me at least -- is that there are about 6000 YouTubers each pulling in over a million views per month. At a recent digital content conference held in Toronto I had the opportunity to attend panels featuring assorted 'Tubers telling their tales and today, some nuggets from two more: Rachel Cooper of the RachhLoves channel and Matt Santoro, the guy on YouTube who does those 'amazing lists' videos that attract tens of millions of views per month.

First, let's hear from Rachel, one of about 50,000 beauty bloggers on YouTube.

For some it's a hobby, for some it's a part time job that supplements their income, and for some, such as Michelle Phan, it's been the path to getting their own makeup line with L'Oreal. For Rachel, recently married and with a baby daughter, it's a full time job, and one that now also employs her husband. She posts two videos per week, on a consistent schedule, and each video runs around 5 to 6 minutes. When she started posting videos a few years ago it wasn't about money, because nobody was making any. "It was about community and making friends online and just having fun" she told the crowd at the conference.

Rachel is part of the Style Haul network on YouTube, which is home to about 5000 YouTubers creating content related to beauty and fashion. While not everyone's YouTube MCN, or third party multi-channel network experience has been great, most notably the Annoying Orange's as explained in Part 1 post, Rachel says she's happy with hers. Among the things it brought her that she says she probably wouldn't have achieved on her own are increased visibility, opportunities for collaboration, a web series, and a deal with Unilever.

To me, personally, beauty bloggers' videos aren't interesting  (I still have no idea how to do a 'smoky eye'...maybe I should watch the channels once in a while?) but what is interesting is how many of them there are, and most come from the humblest of beginnings...literally shooting videos in their bathrooms with a headband on and a makeup palette and flat iron just a few inches away. And yet, they're able to pull in hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions to billions of views. Whereas a previous generation of girls and young women flocked to magazines like Seventeen and Elle for beauty and fashion tips, today it's a much more fragmented landscape, spread across the 50,000+ beauty bloggers and their often niche areas of expertise. What is too various to be covered by mass market magazines and broadcast networks works perfectly for an army of YouTubing young women and their video selfies.

And if there's one thing the Internet has taught us it's that people love lists. So when it comes to lists of particularly mind-blowing facts, it shouldn't surprise us that one man can generate tens of millions of views per month doing videos that regale us with this trivia. Meet former accountant and now full time YouTube video maker Matt Santoro.

Matt told the audience that he didn't want to perpetuate the stereotype of one guy in his apartment making videos and throwing them up on YouTube, when in fact that's exactly what he does.  "If I had more funds I'd have more people...writers, social media person, editors...but I'm everything. If I had just a writer I could triple my production but I'm still just a 1-man show."

When he was posting one video a week Matt's monthly view count was around 23 million, he told the crowd at the conference. One he added a second video per week his monthly views jumped to 35 million and he says it's now closer to 40 million views per month.

The many obsessions of Matt Santoro, in easy to digest list form

"I get a lot of brand deal offers through my YouTube network The Collective (incidentally, the same network with which the Annoying Orange production team is embroiled in a lawsuit). They get me deals to do things like fly to L.A. to do the YouTube Super Bowl half-time show and I also do integrated brand stuff when it feels right, which means I tweet about things and post on social networks, but the number one thing for me is that it has to feel right. I value the trust I've built with my audience. That's the most important thing."

When asked how he keeps up with all the research, writing, production, marketing, and personal appearances that are part  being a 1-man show such as he is Matt ascribes it to two things: "empty bottles of vodka and a lot of crying."

"For the first four years I really didn't make any money. It really just blew up last year. What other job would you do for four years, make almost nothing, and still do it?  You do it because you love it. When I started  making the same I did as an accountant, by uploading 1 video per week, that's when I decided to take the plunge and do it full time. And people know it's not teams of people, yet if I don't post on the day of the week I usually do people are hitting refresh every minute and sending me tweets and emails saying "Matt, where's the video?"

Talking to and/or back to YouTubers? All part of the job in this world of direct-to-fan media and 2-way communication. Which is another way of saying this ain't your mama's TV show.

Related Posts:

YouTube's first North American Fan Fest: Fans love YouTube & YouTube loves its fans
How bloggers with selfie sticks became brand allies

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

YouTubers in 2015 Part 1: The appeal of the Annoying Orange

One of the aims of this blog, now 2 years into its existence, has been examining and then breaking down the economics of the creative industries in the digital era. Why? Because in a little over a decade we’ve gone from industries worth double and sometimes triple digits billions to revenues that are now valued at a fraction of that as people move from purchasing CDs, DVDs, movie tickets, books, newspapers, games, etc to streaming music, playing freemium gamesgetting news on the web and on apps, getting getting what used to be called radio through podcasts, and getting what used to be called TV shows and movies via Netflix, YouTube, or torrent sites.

Today’s post will be a kind of turbo history of YouTube, from its earliest days as a repository of nothing in particular — people’s home movies, random clips of trips, pets, and kids, illegal uploads of old commercials and TV shows and music videos — to today, where it accounts for more 18-34 year old viewers than any television network. 

The first video was posted to YouTube on April 23, 2005. In those days randomness ruled, as nobody knew what the platform was best suited for, and the wild west mentality of uploading things for which didn't hold licenses or copyright was on its way to becoming a new norm. Within a year and half of the chaos of the early days Google acquired the startup for $1.65 billion and today, just short of ten years since its inception, YouTube is a primary platform for a new generation.
This journey from digital dumping ground to entertainment industry power broker was very much on my mind recently when I attended a digital media conference in Toronto. And one thing that’s becoming increasingly clear is that we’re moving toward a world of (at least) two YouTubes. One is the world of the weird and quirky ‘Internet famous’and the other is the world of YouTubers of more mainstream and even corporate appeal. 

Yes, the eccentrics and anomalies are still there, and always will be, but as YouTube evolves and matures, we have the co-existence of the weirdo world of YouTube with the one that favours those with millions of views per videoas well as agents, managers, and video network affiliations Pioneering philosopher of the digital age David Weinberger has come up with a characterization for today’s interesting underbelly of YouTube. He calls it “mass net fame”, and explains here how the Internet in general and YouTube in particular “… enables mass marketing of culture, resulting in old style fame being foisted on us, as well as the Bieberization of talent that first emerges bottom-up and then gets absorbed and re-emitted by the mass media. The Net allows for both of these modalities simultaneously.”

With this cultural tug of war in mind I bring you highlights, in two parts, from the recent Digital Dialogue 2015 conference held in Toronto. Today, it’s the pulpy story of the Annoying Orange (at least I didn’t say juicy) and in the days to come I’ll follow up with a post on the day’s other panelists, amazing lists guy Matt Santoro and beauty blogger Rachel Cooper of the RachhLoves channel.

So, you may ask, who is this Annoying Orange? Well, as the name suggests, he is an orange, but not just any piece of citrus fruit. This one has 2.5 billion YouTube views and over 4 million subscribers and a kind of media empire comprised of sub-channels on YouTube devoted to characters from the series.

From the Annoying Orange camp we heard from Bob Jennings, producer, and voice actor for the series, most notably as Grapefruit.

On the origins of the Orange

Jennings, who got his degree in film from Boston’s Emerson College and had a day job at the American Film Institute, told the crowd it all goes back to January 2006 and the Wicked Awesome Films YouTube Channel. He and his friend Dane Boedigheimer uploaded a video. Jennings remembers: “Within two minutes we had a comment…from Australia…so I said I’m in!”

It was so early in YouTube’s history that there were no thoughts about money. People just made videos and uploaded them because they loved doing it. 

The Orange expands

When asked by the panel's moderator YouTube’s David Brown on the moment when he got hooked on YouTubing Jennings said: “On YouTube you don’t need permission. It’s a two-way stream with the audience. But things really started to pop in 2009. There was nothing like Annoying Orange online. Even our thumbnails didn’t look like anyone else’s. We got a huge young audience and it really became the unofficial cartoon of YouTube. Then other YouTubers like Shay Carl got in touch with us wanting to be involved and then James Caan called and wanted to a Sonny Corleone character talking to a grapefruit." 

                            James Caan takes on a new thespian challenge as Jalapeno

The Orange and its Audience

Jennings tells the crowd that the primary metric was number of views up until recently. Now it’s ‘watch time’, or how long viewers stick with your video, also where your videos get placed outside of YouTube (e.g. posted on Facebook, a primary driver of traffic to YouTube . "And actually gamers taught me a lot about making content that makes people keep coming back."

The Orange Moves to TV

In 2011 in one of the first deals to see a YouTuber move to television it was announced that Annoying Orange would be seen on cable television channel The Cartoon Network. But Jennings admits: “The show is way bigger online than on TV. The problem is we have the brand and advertising dollars backwards…with more of them going to TV when they really should be showing up online.”

The Orange joins a YouTube network, or MCN (multi-channel network)

For a lot of YouTubers the path to optimizing revenues is by way of an MCN, or network that aggregates thousands, if not tens of thousands, of YouTube channels, and strikes deals with brands and advertising agencies that are more favourable than deals available to an individual YouTuber. That’s the theory at least, and for some it pans out. Not so for the Orange, however. “The Collective (Annoying Orange’s network) hasn’t paid us for 5 months. The story is in the Hollywood Reporter if you want to know more. Now we’re in a legal battle.” Jennings continues: “So we just started our own company, New Media Trader, to connect brands with creators."

Click here for Part 2 of this YouTubers in 2015 post.