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?
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).
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.
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.
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.