You may think that if a YouTuber has over a million subscribers they’re rolling in money, but in most cases you’d be wrong. CPMs on YouTube ads have always been low and the recent “adpocalypse” has made things worse. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a living on YouTube. You just have to get creative about your monetization. I explain how in this video
The rise of online video streaming is nothing new; Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have been around for years, and YouTube has become a video behemoth. That being said, traditional TV has remained surprisingly resistant to the internet’s disrupting effects while other entertainment industries like newspapers and music have been decimated. But it looks like the TV industry is finally experiencing a major shift that will result in a major exodus of TV advertisers and cable subscribers. I explain why in this video.
Even without any prior context as to the state of online video, the viewership stats for BuzzFeed Video are amazing. In an interview with BuzzFeed executive producer Andrew Gauthier, we’re treated to these numbers:
Unlike many text publishers that have pushed into video, BuzzFeed’s videos aren’t boom and bust. They regularly rack up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. For example, the last 10 videos BuzzFeed created have view counts between 221,000 and 1 million on BuzzFeed’s primary YouTube channel, BuzzFeedVideo.
I think the average consumer could reasonably assume that a website that already has millions of monthly visitors and millions of social media followers could start regularly producing web videos that rack up thousands of views. The reality is that success stories like BuzzFeed’s are far from the norm.
There’s been a trend in recent years of major news outlets, galvanized by the promise of higher CPM advertising rates, launching more robust video departments. How hard could it be to simply replicate the cable news talking heads model? Just put a few pundits and journalists in a room and have them analyze that day’s news. After wasting significant money and staff resources, many of these publishers have learned a difficult lesson: It’s harder than it looks. In fact, getting a significantly-sized audience to not only sit down and watch a video, but then go on to share it on social media, is a gargantuan task.
Don’t believe me? Look at the recent videos uploaded onto YouTube by the New York Times, arguably one of the largest and most well-funded news sites in the U.S. Of the 30 videos uploaded in the last five days, only one has more than 5,000 views. Most have fewer than 2,000. Or look at Post TV, the ambitious video project from the Washington Post. It launched in 2013 with the goal of producing several live shows that starred the newspaper’s most prominent pundits. It was met with dismal reviews, and by December of that same year the company announced that it was already rolling back its shows in favor of shorter videos. When you visit the Post TV website today you’ll mostly find a repository of short Reuters videos.
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And god forbid you decide to forgo YouTube and only use your custom-made video player. YouTube’s ecosystem is massive (it’s the second largest search engine after Google), and its video recommendation engine has enormous influence. Unless your video is absolutely groundbreaking, without YouTube’s help it’s likely to get fewer than 100 views.
So the fact that BuzzFeed is able to regularly produce videos that attract hundreds of thousands of viewers proves that it isn’t a one-hit, listicle-dependent wonder. It has succeeded among the wreckage of hundreds of abandoned video departments that were launched by overly-eager news organizations.
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A common facet of being a celebrity is that, in addition to your avid fan base, you’re often recognizable to people who aren’t your fans or who don’t even follow you that closely. I couldn’t name you a single Justin Bieber song but I know what he looks like and some general details about him. We even recognize B and C list celebrities on the street even if we can’t quite remember their names.
But YouTube is creating a new kind of celebrity: One who has millions of fans but is recognized by virtually no one outside of that fan base. Even someone like me, who spends a fair amount of time on YouTube every day, would never be able to recognize the vast majority of YouTubers who have over a million subscribers. Fast Company’s Sarah Kessler visited VidCon, an annual conference attended by thousands of screaming teens who flock en masse to get a glimpse of “celebrities” that few outside the conference have even heard of.
A sea of girls is hoisting cell phones into the air. It’s impossible to tell whether it’s a line or whether there’s something extremely interesting toward the center of the mob. A scream erupts from a far corner. “What’s happening?” I ask a tall blonde girl next to me. “I don’t know. Someone came out,” she says.
I wander over to the next group and poke my head into their circle for clarification. “Hey, is this a line?” I ask. It is a line–a line to get into other lines that will lead to specific YouTubers’ autograph signing booths once they open (the word is “YouTubers,” by the way, not “YouTube celebrities” or “YouTube stars”).
“Who are you here to see?” one girl asks. Nobody in particular, I tell her, you? “The British YouTubers.”
Who? There are enough successful YouTubers that it would be impossible to know every star, and one person’s hero can be, to another teenager, a total unknown. “You know, Jim Chapman, Alfie Deyes, Joe Sugg, Caspar Lee, Marcus Butler,” the girl says. I don’t know, and my blank expression is met with exasperated disbelief. It’s time to move on.