Long-Tail Celebrities Won’t Get Famous and May Not Care

Here’s an excerpt of a wonderful post on Cracked.com titled “YouTubers That Will Never Be Famous.” It’s an opportunity for me to “clear the air” about being a self-proclaimed “weblebrity” (which is, you see, rather distinct from being a celebrity). LONG post, here, folks but this one is jam-packed with delicious goodness.

The internet is a big place, but there can only be so many Tay Zondays and LonelyGirl15s. Not everyone can become a crossover internet celebrity, and behind every one of these superstars there are a thousand others just like them, posting video after video and hoping one of them sticks. The following users represent only a fraction of a percentage of the YouTube users currently clogging up the internet tubes with absolute garbage – if you can think of others that deserve to be shamed, feel free to add them in the comments below. Or don’t, actually – additional exposure will only encourage them.

Let’s start by explaining that securing weblebrity status facilitates all the dysfunction of being a real celebrity, but none of the perks. You see, you receive hundreds of messages a day from viewers critiquing your work (probably more than many movie stars). The positive comments give you false self esteem, and the negative ones crush you like a lemon wedge. Eventually you develop thick skin, stop posting, or decide to find your self worth in a more healthy place (like at the bottom of a nice glass of vodka stired by a Xanax).

But, friends, there are at least 5 perks:

  1. We get constructive feedback about what people like and don’t like about our mindless short-form entertainment (so in theory we learn). People look forward to our stuff, and that’s encouraging. Remember that three years ago we bored dinner guests with our videos.
  2. We have a lot of fun. Shooting videos, editing them, collaborating, meeting fellow creators.
  3. Some of us actually get paid by YouTube based on a percent of the revenue it makes from selling ads around our garbage.
  4. We don’t really clog up the Internet. You see, there’s plenty of bandwidth around. It’s kinda like saying someone is wasting your sunshine (there’s an unlimited supply last I checked). Your tan doesn’t come at my expense… unless I have to look at your digusting, peeling skin.
  5. We don’t answer to anyone except our audiences. No producers to tell us to “dial it down,” or sponsors forcing awkward insertions. No “review team” or fear of cancellation.

Now let’s look at VisibleMode. Do I watch him daily? Nope. Does he watch me? Probably not, except when I happened to pick him for the YouTube Secret Santa (I sent him a mug so he could sell out like me).

VisibleMode is one of the top YouTubers in Canada, and Cracked.com’s pick for someone who won’t get famous. Obviously it would be even more interesting to see a Cracked.com list of the few YouTubers that actually might get famous (a harder list to write, and a shorter one).

So now I’ll get to my point, which Cracked might have overlooked. VisibleMode may not soon be in a b-grade film or even an extra in a television commercial. Heck even Michael Buckley (one of the fastest growing, and television-ready weblebrities) may fade like many stars. But VM tells me today he’s had 6,760,748 cummaltive views of his videos. If Google sold those InVideo ads surrounding his videos at $20 per thousand ($20 CPM is the list price), VisibleMode would have hypothetically taken a portion of more than $135,000 that advertisers would pay YouTube/Google. Let me say it again. Even if most of the ads weren’t sold, the CPM wasn’t $20, and VisibleMode only got a small portion, he’d be making decent take-home per month. Will it last? I’m the wrong guy to ask, because I would have bought Revver stock. But I’ll bet he’s enjoying the ride and not too worried about missing a red-carpet event in LA.

The sustainability of YouTube and weblebrities, of course, hinges on advertisers garnering an ROI on the ads that surround this content. They’re fairly targeted and hard to ignore. And they’re in the context of content you’ve chosen to view. So the branding benefit should be worthwhile (a cent or two an impression) even if the direct-response may underwhelm more transactional brands. 

So assuming marketers sell products (or believe they are) via YouTube promotion, the advertising revenue will flow. A shake-down of creators will naturally occur, but the audience of YouTube is growing in depth and frequency, and media consumption continues to fragment. There’s a volume of valuable ad inventory lurking in the long tail, folks…. so...

  • Weblebrities might enjoy a decent side income without ever becoming “famous.”
  • Viewers will have a greater selection of garbage to fit their unique tastes- some cheesy stuff blended with unique, unscripted and short entertainment.
  • YouTube/Google will make some money as well-backed middleman. Heck maybe they’ll buy Cracked.com.
  • Advertisers should enjoy a decent ROI in an emerging medium that’s bound to resemble future television buys more than current television ads will.

Nalts may or may not appear on SNL, but he’s having fun while this lasts. I just wish Cracked would have picked me for someone who’d never get famous. Hey- I know. I’ll do a sunburn video. Worked for ShayCarl.  

YouTube Technical Problems Create Pissed Unpaid “Partner”

sxephilHe’s one of the most prolific YouTubers with more than 123,000 subscribers, daily comedic and topical rants, and he makes his primary income from YouTube’s “Partner Program.”

But Sxephil was so frustrated by YouTube’s technical problems — which he said deprived him of ad revenue — that he turned his daily rant toward the Google-owned video site, YouTube. YouTube provides him with shared advertising revenue that some estimate could amount to a 6-figure annual salary.

Last night (May 17), the YouTube Comedian noticed his recent videos lacked advertisements, and likened the glitch to someone arriving at work and finding their paycheck wasn’t processing. He has since removed that video, but his blog post “Bastards” shows a screen shot of his YouTube midget/prostitute video without ads.

It’s not yet clear if SxePhil removed his YouTube rant video because the site has resolved the issue, or whether it was a reaction to his viewers (some the YouTube’s community took issue with his perceived entitlement). He also might have had second thoughts about “biting the hand,” but his blog isn’t commenting about why the video was removed by him, or even if he removed it.

SxePhil, or “Phil DeFranco” (see PhillyD.tv) also was not available at press time for his comments. But to be fair… I didn’t try to reach him (one of the joys of being a blogger instead of a journalist). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him at a Washington, D.C. gathering, and his true personality is miles from his on-screen persona. I’ve heard the same observation from dozens of people, including a documentary film maker that agreed he’s the YouTuber whose real self is most unlike his on-screen persona.

Last night’s video not only blurred the lines between DeFranco (if indeed that’s his real name) and SxePhil (pronounced “es-exy-phil”). It also created an interesting bifurcation of opinion, which took place on the YouTube video’s comments, in private e-mails among the community, and in live Stickam discussions last night.

  • On one hand, Phil devotes most of his day to creating a short, daily video show. He’s paid only if people view his videos, and in direct proportion to those views. If Google fails to run the ads due to technical errors, both Google and Phil aren’t paid. Counter this to a television network that buys rights to a show and doesn’t sell or run advertising. My guess is the show’s producer is still paid. Another analogy would be a wholesaler that buys pottery from a local artist, and damages them all in a truck accident. Naturally the wholesaler would take the loss, while the artist would still be paid.
  • On the other hand, Phil reminded his audience that he’s paid by YouTube while many of them aren’t, which leads to inevitable (and often deep) resentment. Most YouTubers are hobbiests or at best part-time YouTubers (even the increasingly popular Michael Buckley “What the Buck” has a day job). Members of the community don’t like the idea of one YouTuber not needing a job, while they go to work each day. This resentment is not as true for audiences of television or movie stars, who are often paid for one film what many of us won’t make in a lifetime. But since YouTube has a grassroots community origin, the audience sees itself in an equal peer group with the creators — even when fellow creators are propelled to top rankings. When I first campaigned to be in YouTube’s partner program (with a NAPPY video I haven’t since watched), I felt that community ire and resentment. YouTube viewers begin to expect more from videos of paid creators (an odd entitlement since they’re not paying to watch), yet Phil’s rant was viewed as a pompous entitlement of its own. Interesting?

I’ll be interested in the comments on this post since the video’s gone and so are many of the public reactions. I imagine the common denominator would be that Phil has a right to his earnings, but it might have been more diplomatic to work “behind the scenes” to resolve the issue. That said, YouTube is a company, and companies run on company time. So sometimes the squeaky wheel gets oiled. Thoughts?

RIP for Paid Content (bring on the ads)

It’s pretty clear that consumers are hesitant to buy professional video content much less amateur content. Given that I’ve sold exactly 13 copies of my “best of Nalts DVD” it’s no surprise to me to see that Brightcove is abandoning its “pay for content” model:

On July 31, 2008, we plan to discontinue the Pay Media (Beta) functionality within Brightcove. The Pay Media functionality allows publishers to rent or sell their content directly to consumers. Since its beta release in January 2007, less than 1% of our customers have tried the feature and an even smaller percentage of our customers use it routinely. Given the minimal adoption of Pay Media and the feedback we have received from the market, we are going to discontinue this beta functionality.

Too bad. I was thinking about selling “White Bucks” for $250.

How Much Money Does a YouTube Partner Make?

All the YouTubers are cruising with these. Let's not let them be the only ones, dangit.
All the YouTubers are cruising with these. Let’s not let them be the only ones, dangit.

Editorial Update…. here’s a newer post on how much YouTube partners make. Since this post gets so many daily views via search engines, let me answer your question simply. It’s a fraction of a fraction of a penny per view. It’s not enough to cover the mortgage for most, and it’s certainly not yet the reported $2.50 per 1,000 views. It’s often far less, and varies greatly on whether the views have InVideo ads (YouTube charges $25 per thousand and shares that with creators) or the flat square ads (cost far less for advertisers, and doesn’t pay creators). Although I can’t reveal my income, I can tell you it’s highly influenced by my top 5-10 videos, which get millions of views per month (as opposed to the new ones). That said, if you get millions and millions of views per month and live cheap, you could quit your job and buy my dang book, “Beyond Viral.”

Beyond Viral: Tips on Marketing You & Company on YouTube

YouTube’s Fred was rumored to be making seven-figures, but Google clarified that as six figures. But if you take his 350,000,000 views and multiply it by a conservative $1 per 1,000 views…. you’re talking $350,000.00. I’m making more on YouTube than I made in my first job out of school, but with four kids and a lot of debt, it’s not enough for me to pull a Sxephil, Shaycarl, or Michael Buckley and rely on it as a primary income source.

Oh how’s THAT for a blog title, when you’ve signed a confidentiality document that precludes you from talking about your revenue as a YouTube partner?! Don’t worry, YouTube. I’m not breaking rank. But I’m very interested in what people THINK partners are making.

Before YouTube, I’ve always been transparent about my revenue related to online video. I feel that’s part of my role on this blog… to give creators a realistic sense of what they can make in online video (beyond food). Alas, YouTube prohibits it for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me — are there tiers? If compensation varies, then I can be sure I’m at the bottom based on my complete lack of negotiation skills.

I do believe that some prominent YouTube partners are beginning to earn what amounts to a full-time job through the site. But I also understand that some of the early Partner contracts are up for renewal about now.

  • Could some be overstating their earnings? Yes. But some partners are doing $10K a month, especially those that already had an audience and moved them to YouTube. And some creators get millions of views consistently.
  • When some say they’ve quit their day jobs, is that because their costs are so low that even a couple grand a month can sustain them? Maybe.
  • Could the earnings be based on a point of time where, say, they had a video featured that was monetized? Sure.

While there’s no question that many could still earn more money per hour doing something else (like consulting or bartending), I am happier with my income from YouTube than what I was making from YouTube before I became a partner (zero). And while I’m not sure whether the per-view profit is as strong as Revver’s and Metacafe’s (I don’t even have access to any such metrics), I’m not getting any significant views on those sites anymore. So YouTube is far outperforming them.

My advice remains: if you’re looking to get rich, create a bunch of mortgage blogs and sell adsense. Or go into financial services or recruiting like the former co-worker that just called me to “network.”

But if you love video and the community around it, then it’s nice to get an income subsidy that helps you justify the time commitment to yourself, wife and family. I remain optimistic that more of the top creators of YouTube will be able to quit their day jobs, but that’s partially because amateurs will slowly get trumped by the semi pros (whose day job is performing or video creation). It’s already happening. While the amateur vloggers are holding top positions, we’re seeing more semi-professional content done by comedy troups, bands or known offline celebrities.

Now here’s the purpose of my post. I’m curious what people THINK partners make. I can tell from a lot of comments that people WAY over estimate what creators make: “You get paid for this shit?” “You’re asking us for ideas? You’re the one who gets paid.” I can’t participate in this thread, but it will be fun to watch.

And if you’re not a Partner yet, don’t let it upset you unless you have hundreds of thousands of monthly views. Grow the audience and reapply later. Even if YT did make you a partner, it’s not worth it unless you have some views. Take it from a guy that tried Google ads on his blog for a while, and quickly realized that it wasn’t worth the cosmetic interference.