An online video market and conference could hardly ignore YouTube.
And at this week’s Stream conference in Santa Monica, where delegates were urged to tell better stories to build and sustain new digital audiences, there was no bigger story than the Google-owned streaming platform.
Mention online video, and what conference delegates really meant to say was YouTube and its one billion subscribers are uniquely and effectively positioned to help them build a massive audience for their content online.
Still, Inside.com’s Jason Calacanis on Tuesday arrived at the Stream conference in Santa Monica keen to make sure no one would overlook YouTube for, as it happens, its many failings.
“We might be at peak YouTube right now,” the veteran angel investor and startup promoter told digital content creators that otherwise felt buoyed at the internet TV gathering at having finally become major players in a fast-converging media landscape.
Calacanis certainly has had enough of YouTube, after turning down second cycle funding for original series he launched on the Google platform, and that received production financing from the video streaming giant.
Why? YouTube, he argued, inserts itself between creators and consumers and advertisers, putting the Google platform in increasing control of the ecosystem.
“That’s not to say YouTube is bad in any way. I just think the business opportunity on YouTube is mistaken,” he argued.
As a result, content creators are wrong to invest too heavily in their YouTube channels, to the exclusion of rival platforms.
In a way, Calacanis’ support for syndication of online video in today’s media world, as opposed to putting all your eggs in YouTube’s basket, went to the heart of the dilemma facing content creators today – and which was much discussed at Stream this week.
Barry Blumberg, executive vice president of Alloy Digital and president of Smosh, said the problem was not that the dollars from YouTube flowed unevenly to content creators because of favouritism or an industry pecking order, as in Hollywood.
“The dollars flow very evenly. That’s one of the issues. We have 100 years of media experience on this panel and I’ve never been in business with a partner that doesn’t differentiate between people who invest in making content and those that do not,” he said in the wake of Calacanis’ broadside at YouTube this week.
So Blumberg said he long ago decided not to be overly dependent on YouTube for revenue, and to look for a variety of talent and content to see which wins out in the commercial marketplace.
An example is Smosh, which gets around 40% of its revenue from YouTube through an ad split, and recently launched the Smosh Games Alliance to feature short form video from aspiring YouTube gamers.
Besides helping boost the YouTube audience for the videos, Smosh is also looking to exploit that content outside of the Google platform.
“We’ve launched Smosh Games, and all of that is used to develop IP and talent that we can take to traditional media and we can take into direct-to-consumer sales, in a way you can’t do with YouTube,” Blumberg explained.
For its part, YouTube gently batted away Calacanis’ criticisms, insisting it wasn’t in the business of picking winners, just helping all digital publishers find an audience with ad-supported content.
“We just have a different perspective. We don’t have gatekeepers. We’re allowing the audience to decide what they want to watch,” Beth Greve, head of entertainment, content partnerships at Google/YouTube, told a Stream panel on the art of the syndication deal.
What’s more, YouTube allows content creators to walk away from its platform with 100% ownership of IP that they can exploit elsewhere across a range of global platforms.
Indeed, throughout the Stream conference, creators were urged to look to emerging platforms beyond YouTube, like Hulu, Yahoo! and AOL, and online production houses like Machinima and Revision3, who are increasingly looking to produce quality web originals to catch the attention of consumers and possibly become franchises that can migrate to traditional media and other platforms.
“Our audience is everyone that can be out there, everywhere,” Ran Harnevo, senior vice president of video at AOL, insisted as he promoted his hyper-syndication model of distribution for digital publishers, versus just having a single destination for videos.
Big marketers and media are already embracing YouTube stars like Psy, Jenna Marbles and Philip DeFranco.
And sure, it may seem sensible to put great store in YouTube to follow suit and hopefully go viral with a huge online following.
But Harnevo insisted organic traction online for content anchored by no-named talent needs to come through wide distribution and diversification.
“If you’ve never heard of the creator, you need to put your content and experiences on as many screens as possible, as long as it’s not diluted,” he insisted.