An Online-Video Contest Crisis Begs for Better Model

I’ve written quite a bit about online-video contests as a win-win for producers and brands. Unless the agency insists on a giant microsite and excessive media buy, these give brands access to novel creative executions at a great price. And amateur producers can use it to promote their work, and make some bucks.

My support of Xlntads/Poptent is in hopes the startup can bridge the gap between brands (otherwise paying $200,000-$1,000,000 on TV spots in hopes they’ll land well) and the abundance of creative, talented directors who lacks the connections to become a candidate for a major shoot.

So I was rather surprised to see Jared, aka VideoContestKing (see blog) announce that he’s turning down more than $3,000 of prize money because it makes little economic sense for him. Jared, unlike me, has a television-quality production style and that comes with costs that can’t be offset with a year’s supply of Cheetos.

Last week,” said Jared, “I received and email from Right.Org informing me that I had placed 2nd and 7th with two of my video submissions to their contest. The total amount of prize money was $3,034.00. A tidy sum…but not enough for the job. I decided not to sell my creative property at the price point offered by Right.Org.

Here’s one of Jared’s entries, and you can certainly envision it on television:

Jared goes into great detail about his rationale and why it sets a bad precedent for someone making his income on producing television commercials and high-end content. It makes me wonder if can serve a higher niche (certainly that’s Poptent CEO Neil Perry’s vision). In the future, brands will (I strongly believe) engage lower-cost directors and develop a sleuth of TV-ready spots… then they’ll test them without the exhaustive research & revision process that currently goes results in cost-intensive commercial production (insight research, creative platform, message testing, concept testing, final execution). At the end of that process, sadly, we marketers and agencies never quite know if the ad fails or succeeds based on the insight, message approach, or creative execution. But what if you instead contracted with 6-12 producers, and tested numerous treatments online (not just asking “did the consumer like it and remember it?” but “did it increase your propensity to purchase?”

Risks are reduced, costs are minimized, risk is mitigated, and the final ad (whose director would get an additional premium for granting TV rights) would be more effective. Jared and I exchanged e-mails on this issue tonight, and he’s given me permission to share some of his thoughts. If you click “more” in this post, you can see some of the dialogue we’ve had. What do you think? Should Jared accept what he’s been awarded, or stand his ground with hopes of making a point?

KN: Jared- was your goal with to win the grand prize, or toss in the towel?
Jared: I think everyone who enters any contest is doing it because the grand prize caught their eye. Yes, they are aware they may lose, but it isn’t the runner-ups years supply of chicken wings that set’s the creative blazing a trail…. not usually anyways.
[Nalts has a different view- I know I rarely win, but usually get a “runner’s up” prize, so I’m indifferent to the grand prize, but want to ensure the runner’s up prize will justify my time].
KN: Do contests ever make you sign over rights when you submit, so you have no choice to decline?
Jared: Just because a brand has it’s contestants click a terms and conditions page claiming all content belongs to the brand, does not mean it will hold up in court. It is one of the reasons why they require all finalists to sign/notarize a content transfer affidavit and also submit model releases for all actors involved in the production. Let’s say, they broadcast my commercial without my permission because they think they are in the clear. Without a model/likeness release from all actors they will be successfully sued by any actor who seeks compensation for exploitation of their likeness without consent or remuneration. I am a SAG actor and subsequently am accurately informed to that extent.
KN: With your cost structure (ten times my own), do contests even make sense?
Jared: They can be. Winning a 25K spot pays half a years bills. The smaller 5K-10K ones add up too. I won’t lie when I say I was disappointed in not winning this last one, since 27.5K is a good chunk of change.
KN: I’m happy with $5K runner’s up prizes. But that doesn’t appear to make sense for you, given your higher attention-to-detail, production standards, and time.
Jared: Since most commercials take me only 2 weeks to produce, I would be good with 5k per win. That is a fair spec. award amount (for me at this point in my career). I have peers who would not agree with me, but this is my price point. I am sure it will change over time. I was hired outright by Body Glove and paid 15K for my Directors fee. This figure was before production costs. So yes, I am familiar with getting paid higher amounts, still, I could live with 5K per commercial…. The 5K figure for a contest spec. spot works for me because there is no one guiding the creative except for myself. I do not have to jump through any hoops nor comply with required elements. In the model you speak of however, yes, 10K to 15K works for someone like myself (and there are more freelancers like myself than I think most people/brands realize) who would be willing to take some direction from the brand/agency and deliver a national quality spot for market research in hopes of a larger payday down the road should it get picked up by the brand.
KN: Any other thoughts?
Jared: I’m working to find a brand to take me up on my first 25K contest production offer.

Thanks, Jared, for sharing your situation in hopes it will inform other higher-end producer/directors that are searching for additional ways to market and profit from their talent!

Author: Nalts

Hi. I'm Nalts.

34 thoughts on “An Online-Video Contest Crisis Begs for Better Model”

  1. Hey NALTS,
    Thanks for the shout out and the give and take. Good to spend some time with someone from the genre who understands the relative dynamics. The whole freelance producer branding phenomena has come so far in just a few short years. I have high hopes for a whole class of competent producers finding production niches with a host of different brands. Brands who are increasingly discovering the wealthy resource of creative talent that quite frankly is growing at a rate directly correlating to the plummeting cost of video/editing technology.

  2. Once again, great post Nalts. You hit the nail on the (balding) head. I’ve really struggled with the contest/no contest question, and it was great to hear that taking my content won’t hold up in court since this has been a barrier for me.
    I’m producing much lower cost spots – anywhere from $500 to $4200 per spot. Even at those low costs it is hard to find (and sell) enough TV ready advertisers . . . and my big challenge is having enough free time to work on spec or do a contest.
    So, the contest thing might be good for me – good exposure and maybe even some cash. I’ve followed PopTent/XLNT with some trepidation and have been waiting to see which way it comes down, thanks for showing me that it can be workable.

  3. I absolutely understand the importance of having one’s creative work protected and/or adequately compensated. As you mention at the end of your article, Jared, there IS a difference between hobbyists and professionals.

    However, in any given online video contest, there isn’t. Although our work may suggest otherwise, in a contest, we are ALL merely contestants on an equal playing field, playing by the same rules in hopes of obtaining the same prize.

    If we feel our work deserves more money than the prize(s) offered, then we shouldn’t enter. I’ve opted out of contests I didn’t feel were either a) worth my time, or b) didn’t protect my work adequately. I know how these things generally work; I don’t enter any piece of work I’m not willing to part with. But that’s a decision I make at the moment of entry, not after the judging period ends.

    When I enter contests, it’s because I hope to win, but win or lose, I’ll play by their rules, and accept any decision and any prize they may or may not award. If I feel my work is worth more than said prize, I’ll either elect not to enter, or better still, I’ll pitch my services to the Brand directly, as a professional advertising developer and producer, rather than “just another contestant.”

    I think that as professionals, if we commit to a project, we should commit fully. We should accept all rewards with grace and humility, and accept all defeat with sportsmanship. We owe it to the Brand whose judges thought enough of our work to select it as superior, and we owe it to the other participants whose work wasn’t chosen.

  4. Slater…you suck….
    Okay, now I’ll be more professional…eh hem…ha ha ha.

    Quoting you: ” I absolutely understand the importance of having one’s creative work…adequately compensated.”

    Is $250.00 or a years supply of Chicken Nuggets adequate compensation for a national quality :30 spot? Brett, in every fine print of the rules are provisions for succession of the prize should a contestant not choose to accept it. Nowhere in ANY rules of ANY contest HAVE I read that the contestants MUST consider all prizes adequate compensation, and MUST accept them.

    All producers are NOT equal. The brands know the difference between a $250.00 spot and a national quality spot. If in the estimation of the producer, they judge incorrectly, are all producers expected to go as sheep before the shearer and just accept their fate?

    Look, if a producer decides not to accept a prize and not get paid for his work, that is his/her choice. Am I missing something here? Sorry, but I detect a clear contradiction in your reasoning.


  5. Great debate. What’s fair depends on two things. The cost/experience of the creator. More importantly, it’s what the market will bare. The worth of the thing is the price it will bring. Slater has lower costs, and has won lots of contests because he has the fantastic audio angle and voice, even if his video quality won’t touch Jared’s.

    Bottom line- there’s not a great monetization method online for pros. That’s why amateurs are, at the moment, getting more views and making decent money… especially folks that have no family and would otherwise be working at Best Buy (and you know who you are). 🙂

  6. Wow, I was finally OK with my decision until NutCheese chimed in. Hmmmm. Let me rethink this……………………….that’s funny. Thanks NutCheese.

  7. This is a great debate and I must admit was leaning towards Slatter’s level headed above board moral and honest POV, but Jared had me at “You Suck!”

    Actually, I see both sides of the issue and since I didn’t read the fine print of the agreement let’s just pretend I did and make up the rules as I go along.

    I think since Jared didn’t win first place he had every right to pull out because he’s not only selling a service he is also buying into a product.

    The service Jared provided – his creative video.
    The product Jared bought – entrance into contest; through his time and effort.

    This wasn’t a contest where one fills out a form, pays nothing and doesn’t have to make a purchase. One would have to actually contribute something in order to win. – quid pro quo

    Since Jared’s offer was worth a certain amount of money (that he determined by the amount of the prize offered), and the company didn’t choose his service, they essentially refused to pay Jared what he thought his work was worth.

    What he was buying into was the same thing everyone else who entered was buying into, a chance at the gold, not the silver or the bronze.

    Since the company didn’t think it was worth the gold (what do they know anyway), and awarded him the silver instead, along with the bragging rights to say and profit from things like, “look at what creative people entered our contest, we must be a great company with a great product.” Jared decided his time and efforts were worth more than $3k and their bragging rights.

    Now $3k does buy an ample supply of toilet paper and gum, heck, $3k would wash away a number of my troubles, but Jared by pulling his work can now hedge his bets that the same idea, a good idea, will find the right market and he can tweak it and use it for bigger rewards down the line. He believes in the quality and marketability of his work and ideas.

    Who knows… Someone may be reading this blog right now, look at his work and say, “That’s exactly the guy for us!” while they are writing a check for $3k to me.

    It could happen.
    actually, if your writing… $5k would juuuuuust about do it.

  8. Hey jischinger,
    Wow, you def. must have educated yourself beyond high school, maybe some asult ed or night school….. coz in Moosic Pennsylvania where I grew up, you’re logic would be an enigma. Actually I love my hometown, I just can’t live there anymore.

    You injected a lot of juris prudence behind your reasoning and I loved it. You may or may not have had a chance to see the debate going on over at my blog, but if you have a minute and want to cut and paste this over there, I would be mighty obliged. It seems there is a minority cadre of folks over there who are akin to indentured servitude.

  9. I’d never invest so much time and money (with TWO ENTRIES) if I didn’t agree with the rules or prizes of the contest. That’s why I pass on 95% of these things. But Jared and I have been debating this all week, so next point–

    These brands need to offer bigger prizes for 2nd-10th place. Kevin, I think you touched on this before. Don’t put up a $30,000 first prize, then a can of creamed-corn for second. A professional filmmaker isn’t gonna touch that. (Unless maybe he wanted to produce a spec anyway.)

    Brands need to spread the wealth, or risk falling flat on their faces with bad submissions. And by the way, that’s happening to a TON of them right now.

    The question I have is, how do we communicate this to them BEFORE they launch their contests?

  10. Uhhhhhhh. An RSS feed to willvideoforfood that will then link to thevideocontestking where the brands can read all the bitching and moaning first hand.

  11. @13
    Actually I stopped paying attention in 6th grade, but ah shucks, thanks!
    Here’s the deal, you can have what I wrote for $3K.

    j/k – feel free to cut and paste, I would join your foray over on the island, but I’m in the midst of moving and even though the temptation is great and gives me the perfect excuse to stop packing to do something much more fun I’m afraid I have to painfully decline for now. However, feel free to send them this-a-way and I’ll kick their asses for you 🙂

    Side Note – I can’t tell you the number of time I and other artist I know have been ripped off and taken advantage of by marketing departments (YT Bill Hicks on marketing), from date changes, to fees, to revisions, you have to be at least your own advocate out here.

    Pealing an Onion – pardon me is if I get redundant and my thoughts are out of place and random I crave order, but currently living in a state of disorder.

    Now, if I understand what Matt Koval @14 said in relationship to the contest – $30k was 1st prize, $3K was 2nd prize, and Jared pulled his work when he didn’t win 1st prize – that decision in my opinion was a no brainer. I refer back to hedging bets above. 2nd place in this instance seems more like cream corn in a frozen TV dinner.

    REDFLAG! hmm… who ran this contest and by any chance was the first prize winner related to a staff member?

    Beware In This Economy – people are so desperate for work these days that a number of them are now working for free to keep their resumes fresh, and companies are taking advantage of that – this practice is not only illegal it is dangerous for everyone – king of the hill lord of the flies.

    Once More In Jared’s Defense – if an ad agency had to put together a series of spots and present them to a client and his spot wasn’t chosen he would have at least been paid for his time, Depending on the compensation and labor contract drawn he would have been allowed to keep his work or sell it for the contracted price.

    In Defense Of The Other Side – The worry for the agency in a “contest” is they may have a great 1st prize winner and all the other submissions might be really crappy – a contest is a literal crap shoot, a risk companies takes and probably why in this case top prize was only $30k and not professional wages.

    There’s a lot of ways to look at this thing. If Jared was just staring out 2nd place $3k might have been a big thrill, but the reality is he knows his bottom line and what his work is worth, every man has to figure that out and stand up for it.

    He went for the gold and for what ever reason missed, that doesn’t mean he should be penalized by losing the rights to his work. In order to preserve that he refused all compensation, that’s only fair. This was after all a “Contest” He wasn’t hired to do a “Job.” Different laws apply.

    Contract v. Rules – These two terms are funny things and we should probably expect more law suits in the future regarding compensation as these types of “contests” grow in popularity. The way I understand how this works; the company has an out for any potential lawsuit by any of the winners for demanding more compensation in the future, once the contestant accepts the prize that’s the hand shake, end of deal.

    Jared didn’t shake any hands, thus no deal was sealed, the company can not collect his work nor do they have to pay out the prize.

    Same, But Different – Say I won the Publisher’s Clearing House, no purchase necessary, part of the deal to collect the prize is that my picture will be plastered all over their ads and TV. If I tell them it’s against my religion to be photographed, they are not obligated to pay me the winnings.

    Depending on where you stand it’s a bit of a double edge sword.

    Final Justification – Since putting together a spot usually costs upwards or over $100k, $30k for an ad or a commercial is a real bargain for the agency and what they are getting for their money

    Value is Subjective – $30k may be great wealth to an amateur, a boost for someone who is working their way up the ladder, but it is also pennies for a professional. However, legally, this was a “contest,” a promotion, advertisement to drive sales, it was not a contracted job that offered industry wages, the laws governing these two again are different.

    So I’m not really sure why anyone would complain about Jared’s decision to decline unless it’s some sort of quasi unspoken understanding among contest players or a cult thingie.

    oh, see now there I’ve gone and done it, waxing on and on instead of packing.

  12. Okay juschinger,
    You present the best argument yet why I should consider going both ways…..

    OK, I’ll stop with the bad sex jokes. Don’t worry I am as heterosexual as an Archie bunker type could be.

    I would be real curious to know your background. Your observations and deduction (at least where this discussion thread are concerned) are right on. I think that because you are not really part of the contest genre you have the correlating clarity. You are right about there having evolved some sort of weird cult psyche about unwritten contest decorum (usually deferring to the brand and NOT the creative)

    Your quote: “This was after all a ‘Contest’, He wasn’t hired to do a ‘Job’.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Plainly put, the judges may or may not choose my production….and I may or may not accept the year supply of Klondike bars.

    Sorry to hear you are packing. It is probably the worst single thing I will ever experience in my life next to hemorrhoid surgery…which I haven’t had yet but am sure it is coming down the pike, along with an ulcer from all these contests.

    When you get all settled in your new digs and stuff, I would love to have you over at my blog every now and again when you can afford the time. Comments like yours, keep the readers coming back for more.

    If you ever have a slow YouTube day and want to see what I look like dressed in drag, go to my channel. YT username: jaredcicon

    Jared aka VCK

  13. @17 “I am as heterosexual as an Archie bunker type could be.” was the gayest statement I’ve ever seen on this blog.

    Speaking of gay… I was at school today and noticed the guy next to me had stains on his shirt. I was talking to him at the break and he said he needed to go change his shirt because it looks like he gave someone a blow job and it got on his shirt. He spent last night at his boyfriends house so I decided not to ask any further questions.

  14. Jared! There’s actually someone out there who’s longer-winded than you are! 😉

    I get the point. I just would never play that game in the first place — investing such a massive amount of time and effort in an all-or-nothing bid for first place… *hoping* that the judges are fair and don’t have ulterior motives… *hoping* that they have good taste… and *hoping* that there isn’t a better entry. It’s a heck of a business model.

    Of course, Jared has made a living off that model, so more power to him.

  15. Hey Matt,
    Yes it is very tough right now to make a living. It truly is a ‘wild west’ industry. That however is exactly why I think it is wise to be in the midst of it all at this point in it’s evolution.
    When the dust finally settles and a few years down the line (or sooner) when businesses of all sizes start giving the brand managers the green light to start pursuing relationships with freelance producers, it is those same creatives who have been front and center in the genre who stand to benefit.
    I plan an being in the mix when it happens.
    The VCK

  16. Working on spec has a long tradition in the entertainment industry, certainly on the writing side of things.

    In the advertising world, account-chasing executives will have a budget to produce work on spec in order to win over a client and secure a fee.

    Reading Jared here, it’s seems to me that he fully understands his place in the market and has made his peace with it. I think he is to be admired for his stand.

    The flip side, though, is that he is probably too good to benefit from these kinds of contests. The “clients” here are trying to tap into the growth in professional-looking amateur content. The key there is “professional-looking”. As soon as you actually make something with professional talent, you are pricing yourself out of the contest. The line between you and Nalts’s self-proclaimed satisfaction with 2nd place is clear. Perception is nine tenths of the flaw. They are happy to pay Nalts what he thinks he’s worth, they are not as willing to pay you what you think you’re worth.

    Until the Naltses of this world start rejecting 2nd place in these contests (NEVER), the Jareds will continue to struggle to pick up paid jobs through this route.

  17. will try not to be (cough) so long winded this time…

    RE: Your blog – Thanks, I’d be happy to, but only if you promise regular updates on the hemorrhoid situation and I’ve seen you in drag, so let me take this opportunity to say, please stop doing that.

    RE: My background – I’m a Time Lord

    On Contest Cult
    Ye Old Business Model v. Everyman For Himself.
    I’ve compiled a short list of the then and the now.

    The hand shake is now Get it in writing.
    My word is my bond is now Get it in writing.
    Get it in writing is now Call my lawyer.
    The Standard Repertoire is now Obsessively Unique or Uniquely Obsessive.

    I do understand where the old business model is coming from. It’s quaint, like a Libertarian, but business isn’t that a-way any more. The equation is, unique talent + connections + connections to the connections = job

    It’s that whole social networking thing, diplomatically tribal.

    However, there is one constant that carries over throughout time, supply and demand, Right now, in this post You Tube world there is a lot more supply than demand. When people become the product it becomes the number one cause for ulcers.

    In general contests are supposed to be fun, a kick, a gambol, not the next step in a career move, However, that’s changed, it is now the new burgeoning business model and a very cheap one for ad agencies. They hunt and capture some starving IT guy, shell out 10 bucks for a domain name and have the artist supply everything else. The agency gets their standard fee and the artist gets a fraction of a fraction of a fraction. Corporations are such sneaky lil’ devils, and when it comes to business ethics the solution to that troublesome word is, stockholders!

    Anyway, in this new Contest Business Model there are no written rules, yet. However, some people want to take the old business model rules and apply them to this new model, but they don’t stop to think who they just put out of work. There are seasoned actors, cameramen and producers shaking their fists at the Contest Business Model screaming, “Scabs!”

    So people who are throwing stones at Jerad’s house of glass ought to look a little closer at their own.

    and the world goes round… like an electric piano

    Mr. Koval writes, “I get the point. I just would never play that game in the first place — investing such a massive amount of time and effort in an all-or-nothing bid for first place…”

    ya know that’s just the wrong attitude buddy, you’re missing the most important element when it comes to the creative process, practice.

  18. “you’re missing the most important element when it comes to the creative process, practice.”

    I see — just because I choose not to enter video contests, I don’t understand the value of practice. That’s quite a judgement to make!

    Anyhoo, good debate guys, and good blog post Jared/Nalts!

  19. @21
    Maybe. All good points though. Except Jared doesn’t have to say no, he has the option of being flexible. Depending on the product there are a host of other factors he can consider like, making new and influential connections, potential views, distribution, starvation.

    “I see — just because I choose not to enter video contests, I don’t understand the value of practice. That’s quite a judgement to make!”

    not when you preface it with,
    “investing such a massive amount of time and effort in an all-or-nothing bid for first place… *hoping* that the judges are fair and don’t have ulterior motives… *hoping* that they have good taste… and *hoping* that there isn’t a better entry. It’s a heck of a business model.”

    nice job of compartmentalizing tho

  20. Hey Matt,
    I think jischinger’s shot across your bow, may have been the result of your ‘windbag’ comment ha ha. I also think his ‘practice makes perfect’ suggestion may have been born of him thinking your focus was as contest concentric mine. For anyone reading this I will set the record straight that you are actually more closely connected to the regular business of Hollywood debauchery than I am ha ha. Matt rarely enters the contest genre, except to co-star with myself or other producers in their projects.

    No come on boys, time to de-lace the 15 ouncers. ha ha ha, though it was getting interesting.


  21. Okay so Matt is the arresting officer, you are the professor, Nalts is the president, and I guess I would be the woman who called in the complaint. I could do that. I have the wardrobe. She did seem like a bit of a drama queen, I’m good.

  22. Hey jimmersd,
    You could be the waiter who served the beverages on the white house lawn to the Beer Summit. In this way you could sample each making sure it isn’t poisoned.

  23. I need to get in the game. I didn’t know that there is a decent amount of coin in video contests. Plus, it can get your name & work in front of the right people.

  24. @27 I’m there, but only if I get to carry a cane and I’ll have the local micro brew please.

    @27 Blue Moon has in the past, I even entered – I didn’t win though, I think the loss had something to do with mixing water sports and beer – doesn’t translate well with responsible drinking.

  25. Yeah well, that’s what happens when you do those underwater shots without scuba gear. Damn actors got rights. Don’t worry with my production budgets I’ll be changing all that.

    I will make all of my talent take breath holding classes first. No swimming necessary.

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