Online-Video: The Gap Between “Stars” and Others Widens

Put on your thinking caps, kids. Lots of wisdom in here. Most of it is additive to Beyond Viral, but go buy that damned book if you haven’t. And if you have read Beyond Viral, please provide a gratuitous complement below even if it’s fake. Hey I’m not expecting to outsell Hunger Games, but my goal is to at least keep pace with Garfield’s “Get Seen.” Is that too much for a girl to ask?

It’s been apparent that the online-video “star” pyramid is growing sharper, despite the continued myth that “YouTube can create a celebrity from scratch” (as reinforced by Miley Cyrus alleged snub of Jessica’s “Friday” hit). The truth?

  • One-hit wonders like "David After Dentist" don't generally spawn a popular channel

    While it’s true that YouTube does spawn occasional “overnight sensations,” it’s about the same odds as getting struck by lightening while scratching a winning lotto ticket. Furthermore, only a tiny portion of those “viral” hits take their creators beyond the one-hit wonders. About 85% of Booba1234’s views come from one video: “David After the Dentist.” In fact I’m guessing the username “Booba1234” would have a .02% aided awareness even with the ubiquity of that one clip… a meme.

  • Even the “rockstars” of new media.. almost never break into traditional media (name an exception?). Most of YouTube’s most-subscribed are virtually unknown beyond YouTube (you won’t find them on Yahoo Video, AOL Video, MSN and certainly not Hulu.
  • And, most interestingly, the only the fiercely committed and adaptive webstars even endure even on YouTube. Their life cycles are getting shorter, and today’s hotties are tomorrow’s castaways (even though YouTube has kindly built floors on their monthly views so they won’t starve).

Put in better terms (and I’ll credit this to a wise YouTube insider): the online-video weblebrity survival is like a marathon race. The gap widens between the front-runners and the bloated masses. (In that analogy, I’m the sweaty red-faced guy panting at mile marker 4).

YouTube is more like a marathon at mile 20... the gap widens

Example: In 2007 we all shared tips freely, but now in 2010 and 2011 when one of us “cracks the code” (begging viewers to comment can jolt a video’s popularity and “spotlight” treatment) the insight is less likely to be shared among fellow creators. Understandable given the increasing competition and financial stakes. That’s part of the benefit of formal or informal coalitions (Next New Networks, The Station). People in these tend to more willingly share learnings. This week NNN is running a series of prank videos that will all “point” to each other, thus raising the collective views. With luck, these videos might even be “clustered” by YouTube’s algorithm in the same way that many videos are, which is of paramount importance to their enduring views over time. For example, search for any of these categories: cute kids, laughing kids, funny animals, pranks, fails. You’ll find that YouTube accurately predicts what you’re after, and serves you up relevant videos in that genre. And you’ll find the same videos whenever you do this, and whether you’re logged in or not. Being a “YouTube Partner” caught in those “swirls” of popular categories means, quite frankly, an annuity of advertising income.

"Laughing baby" search on YouTube reveals what I call a "content swirl." The same videos are clustered, and predictably show you related videos.

My thought was that the total number of online viewers would always grow, such that more competition (especially from commercial content) would not erode the amateur fan base. However New York Times’ Alex Mindlin points out something interesting and important from the last comScore report: the sheer numbers of online-video viewers has not grown much at all in the past years. The growth has largely been due to more consumption by a fairly static number of viewers. This will change as web-connected television becomes a reality, but the laggards will not binge on as many YouTube amateur shorts, I think. They’ll gravitate toward well-produced 30 minute shows and 2 hours films.

So the reality is that the “new amateur rich” are getting richer (many far surpassing $100K annual incomes), but the barriers to entry are increasing and I wonder about the endurance of this medium… just like Indie performers at the dawn of the Internet, are they a “fad”? Sure we’ll always still see rising new stars, and that makes it look easy. But beyond the select “most-viewed” webstars, the mid-tier content (even those with 200-700K subscribers) is seeing a significant drop in views on recent videos. Part of this can be explained by YouTube’s algorithm generously rewarding vintage clips… most of my 4-6 million views a month comes from about 5 of my 1000 videos.

And here’s the interesting and somewhat confusing factor. While I am thrilled about the stability that algorithm provides to me as a creator (keeping my recurring daily/monthly views fairly consistent), it is understandable but interesting that “vintage trumps new” videos. Why? The shelf life for social media and amateur content, with a handfull of exceptions, is organically short. As Daisy Whitney reports (crediting Steve Rubel), social media content decays quickly. If a video, tweet or Facebook post is going to get a lot of views and engagement, it’s usually within the first couple days, and we’ve seen that in numerous studies like this dated but important Tubemogul report.

My most-viewed videos (like Scary Maze, i are Cute Kitten, Farting in Public, and America’s Funniest Bloopers represent about 30% of my total 200 million views. My recent videos, by contrast, are more in the 10-30,000 view range despite having 240,000 subscribers. While I can’t control how YouTube serves up videos, these facts remind me that I need to post more regularly since subscriptions drives views less than habit. Let me say that again because it’s very, very important: habit makes someone “current,” and if content isn’t refreshed predictably then the audience wanders away.

Interestingly, my sponsored videos sometimes continue to get views too. My Fox television show promotions for Fringe, Lie to Me and Glee have continued surpass millions and millions combined, alone topping the Hitviews original campaign goals (which also involved dozens of other creators). These videos, presumably, are either showing up in searches — or more likely via YouTube’s “related videos” spotlights. I just realized this by chance, and it speaks to an important value proposition of webstar videos: they go beyond a campaign period, despite the obsession we have with “fresh” content.

You'd watch a bad new release before a good classic you haven't seen. Guaranteed.

Our Fresh-Baked Obsession: It’s true that almost all of the “viral” videos on Unruly’s “Viral Video Chart” are “fresh baked” (posted within the past week) and that makes perfect sense. When’s the last time you started your visit to Netflix, “On Demand,” or (for you old folks) Blockbuster by browsing the classics? I don’t need to convince you that there are classics you’ve never seen that are going to be far, far better than what’s on the “new releases” shelf. You know that. But you’re drawn to “new” as if it subconsciously means “better.” That’s a human reaction that has two sources: first it’s based on the “prehistoric” brain (as opposed to our newer “executive brain” where “fresh” equals safer. Fresh meat, fresh grains, fresh vegetables. Second, I think it’s because absorbing “fresh” content keeps us “current” and “topical,” and provides a social glue. We can all bond in a collective groan about how much “Friday” sucked and how cute that new baby is when she rips up paper.

Screw it. I’m over thinking. I’m gonna go watch a baby giggle while ripping paper.

24 Replies to “Online-Video: The Gap Between “Stars” and Others Widens”

  1. Excellent post and spot on…Times change and the stars of today on Youtube, will change..The old guard always does….not saying that you’re old Nalts, cause I’m older…but they’re going to have to adapt if they want to stay on top, because sometimes the same things over and over gets stale.

    I believe somewhere down the line Youtube is going to have to get better with their algorithm to feature fresher content.

  2. Forget the Fresher Content. They Don;t care. They have already announced that they are going to get celebs to do content. Plus if you have watched the Curator or Spotlighted videos, they are a Celeb or someone very popular recommending videos.

    There’s no chance, unless you are Rebecca Black or TheWineKone

  3. Name an exception?

    Well, off the top of my head I know that Rhett & Link just got their own TV show. Kev Jumba was on the Amazing Race. Probably other example exist, but I don’t watch many of the most popular YouTubers.

  4. I’m noticing how a whole new generation of entertainers is slowly taking over YouTube, raising the bar, every period. I’m afraid that the next step will necessitate the creator to produce studio quality videos or people won’t even look at your stuff.

    My question is though: ok, Youtubers are becoming greedy not sharing their tips and ideas but I think that there is still a strong fundamental of a community behind the medium, otherwise it wouldn’t be that different from the other platforms you cited.

    lastly, I agree with the theory that the unpredictable “new” attract more than the good “old”, but I’m wondering how long will take before RayWilliamJohnson will get kicked out of the top 10 subscribers (unless he suddenly stop posting videos).

    I like the “it’s about the same odds as getting struck by lightening while scratching a winning lotto ticket” metaphor but I still prefer the classic, more unpredictable, “Lama” one.

  5. Love these comments. ANd btw- lots of TALKED about TV shows, but what besides LisaNova and Pranked has actually happened? I did see Bo Burnham on Hall Pass. Kiddsock- understandable but sad about the focus on celebs.

  6. Anyway, Nalts, if the timing of this post isn’t impeccable, I don’t know what is.

    I say that because, you might have blinked and missed it, but I officially threw in the towel for all things “Reubnick” last Monday. I won’t say I quit, but I quit, basically. Maybe “quit” isn’t even the right word. I sort of Joaquin Phoenix’d, except I don’t want to record a rap album, and I can’t grow a beard. But, I dropped the bomb, did it bitterly and made it fact: I’m taking the walk from YouTube.

    To put it bluntly, it’s over. It’s finally over. I wised up, stopped just only THINKING about it, and now, Reubnick goes dark. Reubnick would be 5 years old this September. I think it’s the right decision.

    But, I basically did it for many of the reasons detailed in this post, and I’m glad you wrote it, because although I have no right to hijack this and make it about me or anything, it just ties in so nicely with what you said (I wouldn’t bring it up otherwise, I promise.) I’m also glad it was written by one of the very few pals who have stuck with me from start to finish.

    The gap you wrote about is as gaping as ever, and it grows exponentially at an even more expanding rate every day, and finally, it swallowed me. The bigger it got, it chewed me up and continued to spit out new-fangled vloggers and singers who I am not favorable of, and it finally just swallowed me. I lose. I’m done. I just can’t keep up anymore, nor do I even want to.

    In a way, I am finally just acknowledging what’s been true for months. I’m no longer even ON that figurative pyramid you mentioned, and in that marathon, I’m that even sweatier kid who collapsed far from the finish line. Or, maybe I collapsed meters after the finish line. Either way, I collapsed and am hyperventilating on the floor and people are trying to run around me and pretend I am not there.

    I will be quiet about that now, though, and by all means, pay no heed to me, I’m just rambling. This post just seemed such an appropriate place to make it official to whichever back-rowers might have wanted to know, I just couldn’t resist. It’s been pretty obvious I’ve been heading this way, but I think it’s safe to say I have finally completed the fading-out you have all witnessed over the course of time. Now, game’s over. Reubnick is gone. All that’s left is Reuben Glaser.

    On to the next arena, I guess. Anybody want to cameo in a short film? That seems like the logical next step for a failed and disgraced Youtuber. Reuben cruising around the Wisconsin Film Festival circuit…I could get behind that.

    Anyway, here is what is effectively my letter of resignation, if anybody is interested. (I call you my Dr. Demento in it, Nalts.)

    Ok, sorry about that. Let’s get back to what’s really important: what the crap kind of a name is Booba1234? What was that goof thinking? Hahah!

    Right, see you all later. I think I’m going to go away for a number of months now.

  7. Was it at Natpe that ShayCarl sustained something about rather sticking to YouTube than dip into the Tv Biz? I guess that sums up a whole bunch of Youtubers way to be (I think though that probably the right amount of money would make them change their minds..quick). Even though I’m not a great fan of Rhett and Link I guess they might fit the TV standards (I go blind with this one, I live in the UK and I grew up in Italy, so I have no idea about US TV standards). In regards of stuff like pranked, that is nothing new to the TV-sphere, I remember prank-shows being pretty popular like a decade ago.

    P.S. I don’t like Charlie Bit my Finger either. Maybe the british accent alone is worth few tens mln of views.

  8. Hey Reubnick, man, I see your pain. I wish you good luck, and I think we all agree that YouTube is changing, evolving every day. Is an ocean worth of videos which is growing at an impressive pace. The old veterans that managed to keep up (not without problems) are still afloat but I’m not sure how many are on top of this revolution or at least are keeping up with the new wave (apart from the usual suspects). I’ve never met you before, but I wish you the best of luck, I’m sure that after some serious time off you might actually feel the need to talk to an audience again, and who knows maybe starting from scratch, can represent a new era for you. For the moment, all the best.

  9. Shane Dawnson said something about Promoting a Show, backed by Sony, to the NEtworks. He even showed his draft trailer. But the networks, even cable, will kick him out because of his raunchy humor.

    Oh yeah Annoying Orange/Dane Boe is doing something for TV. I am still going to Audition for Annoying Orange though.

  10. I do understand your position Reubnick you have to treat your online channel as a business, a real business with a plan and everythigng. Otherwise you will always be disappointed.

    There are regular vloggers out there who keep at it and God bless ’em. Some like the Nalts and others just keep rockin the sweet spot. Unless you conceive of the perfect viral concept and are able to produce it to it fall in the slot, well then you are just another vlogger. If you are okay with that then cool.

    I suggest you keep the channel and re-visit it from time to time for old time sake (don’t delete your content. You will regret it).

    Get on with your life and maybe..just’ll get a great idea that can reach a small core of people.. who will tell someone…who will tell someone…who will tell someone…

  11. It’s all about getting to know “AL” I read all over, how it’s impossible for the little guy to get featured. But as I type this, I stand at 18th most viewed comedian of the day. Beating out JackValeFilms by 3, behind WheezyWaiter by 6, PrankVsPrank by 11 and SHAYTARDS by only 14. Everyday I am in the top 100. << theres a pic in case my status changes, and it will. It seems to me, that those of us who are new to YouTube who truly want to succeed, are not having any problem doing so. Those who complain about the system being unfair, bla bla bla are wasting their time complaining when they could and should be doing something about it. As Jimmer said, you need to treat this as a business, a real business. Be a part of the community, but don't worry about how and or why others are getting views, featured etc. Worry about yourself. Now it's about YOU going Viral, not just a video. The viral video is like a shot of NOS, it will give you an edge, but you still need gas in the tank.

    2011 View Whore of the Year

  12. I should ad, that RayWilliamJohnson has not posted and =3 Monday or Wednesday. So this has knocked “AL” off balance a bit, I’m sure. Perhaps “AL” is out drinking with Ray and Ray told “AL” to push BuddhaCharlie to the top this week, so people can get their Viral Video Review fix. Nalt’s you got “AL” ‘s phone number? I want to take him out for Sushi !!!

  13. Hey BuddhaCharlie,

    That’s Awesome. Your success come into your ability to keep it short VERY short. AND you keep them coming. 5 or 6 in a day! I think once you find that perfect balance of twitches and OverActing, you’ll have a gem of a Character.

    RayWilliam Johnson is like a Beer, WhatTheBuck is like a Strawberry Daqueri, Annoying Orange is like a Screwdriver, YOU are like a Shot! Keep ’em coming BarKeep!

    “AL” just ignores me. But that’s a different story.

  14. @buddhacharlie “Now it’s about YOU going Viral, not just a video. The viral video is like a shot of NOS, it will give you an edge, but you still need gas in the tank.” this is good for my uni dissertation, thanks.

    @kiddsock spot on!

  15. Considering that Buddhacharlie is a Shot and all the other representation for those Youtubers, what are you Kiddsock? (I won’t accept “sock” as an answer)

  16. great post. Natalie Tran of community channel did get a trip around the world promoting lonely planet’s youtube channel, taking it’s sub base from 15,000 to 40,000

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