When the moderator at YouTube Space LA on Monday asked Michael Stevens what about Vsauce made him the proudest, he didn’t point to the billion view landmark everyone at the party was celebrating that evening. For him, the greatest success metric for the family of 6 wacky video channels, which mixes science and pop culture, is actually their popularity on dating site OkCupid.
“I managed to find girls all over the world that were literally putting Vsauce in their dating profiles,” said Stevens, who launched the main Vsauce channel in June 2010. “And I was like, ‘Wow, these people are writing about the channel because it kind of helps define who they are!’ That made me feel really cool, but super creepy. I didn’t dare click on any one of the profiles, because they could see who (reads them).”
Earlier in the day, Stevens joined his fellow Vsauce hosts Kevin Lieber and Jake Roper (pictured, right to left) to discuss the channel, which has grown its fanbase to include scores of teachers who have taken to using their fun-but-informative videos as educational tools in the classroom – a pretty impressive accomplishment considering Vsauce began as a video game review show.
Although Vsauce is dedicated to answering scientific questions, from “What if Everyone Jumped at Once?” to “Can You Genetically Enhance Yourself?”, it isn’t opposed to hawking some product now and then. Recently, it teamed with Legendary Pictures to promote their Godzilla reboot. The filmmakers gave the Vsauce team the design metrics for its titular giant lizard, and they created the video “Could Godzilla Exist?”, which was posted on Vsauce, as well as the film’s YouTube channel.
A more common brand integration for Vsauce is the deal it made with the animated web series Bravest Warriors (pictured right), in which the animators drew Stevens floating in space for one of his videos.
“I was like, ‘I really want to show people how you would die if you were naked in space, but you’ve got to see it with your own eyes. I can’t just tell you with words,'” Stevens recalled. “So they said, ‘We’ll animate it for you and we’ll sell a shirt with your naked space body on it, and you’ll get to show people.'”
“In a Vsauce video “Will We Ever Visit Other Stars?”, I mentioned that Bravest Warriors was going to be on YouTube and everybody should watch the show,” Stevens said, “and then I sort of took (the plot of the show) seriously and did some of the science behind it,” exploring whether interstellar travel is possible in real life.
While brand integration falls somewhere between a lifeline and a goldmine for many YouTubers, it isn’t as vital to Stevens, Lieber and Roper – who live in London, Los Angeles and New York, respectively – because all 3 work for Google, which took ownership of Vsauce when YouTube acquired Next New Networks in 2011.
“We get to work as ‘lab channels,’ where we have complete creative freedom,” Stevens said. “We do what we want, and we’re right there to tell YouTube, ‘My fans want this feature’ or ‘I don’t understand this feature.'”
When asked if there were any key a-ha moments on Vsauce’s journey to a billion views, Stevens pointed to when he realized the benefit of giving videos titles similar to Google search topics (e.g. “What’s the Deepest Hole?”).
“I did those and they were being spread on blogs and Facebook and Twitter,” Stevens said. “I was like, ‘Hey, this is pretty exciting.'”
But, Lieber pointed out, “none of our videos have gone uber viral. I think the most I have is like, 15 million views, which is nothing compared to a One Direction song.”
“We’ve benefited from the consistency of good content,” Lober added. “When you do have a video that goes viral, you think what do you do next?”
Vsauce could do a cable show, a la Mr. Wizard or Bill Nye, The Science Guy, who’s guest starred in their video “Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?”. In a roundabout Confucian way, Stevens suggested it is a possibility.
“We’re friends with our audience,” he said. “You would never think to yourself, ‘I just became the best friend I could. I’m going to retire from talking to humans.’ We’re not going to retire from that, so if it means exploring new formats, obviously we want to do that. New countries, new languages, reaching out, localizing new channels, even going out to new platforms – anything that we can do to reach the world with our message and our attitude, that’s the big goal.”
As for Vsauce’s plans for the immediate future, it hopes to re-launch its merchandise line soon.
“It’s like the team colors fans get to wear,” Stevens said.
How about a Vsauce science kit?
“If Toys R Us is out there listening, let’s make some,” Stevens laughed.