By YouTube standards, My Country Nation is what you might call a modest hit.
The family-friendly channel dedicated to country music, backyard grilling and all-things Americana debuted nine months ago and has, so far, garnered about 24,000 subscriptions.
To put that number into perspective, Swedish gamer PewDiePie has more subscribers (37 million) than the entire population of Canada.
Even it’s closest rival, the Country Now channel, has drawn a subscription fanbase of 57,377 subscribers.
But there are different ways to measure success, and the forces behind MyCN say that toppling the reigning YouTube kings and queens just isn’t on the agenda.
“Our primary mission has been about creating great content and getting it out and published digitally so that people can view it and we can drive impressions for our media partners,” said Trevor Drinkwater, CEO of ARC Entertainment, an indy film and television company, and one of the four founding partners behind MyCN.
Talent agency WME, music and television production company Taillight and country star Brad Paisley round out the team behind the channel, which can also be found on OTT and Vine, and across social networks.
In an interview with StreamDaily, Chris Jacquemin, digital agent with WME, said the idea for the channel emerged a few years ago, back when YouTube was looking to Hollywood and New York to help it create new influencer channels.
Jacquemin, though, saw a niche in what he felt was a under-served country lifestyle, still alive and well across Middle America, and, like the nation itself, got to work building the channel from the ground up.
Talking with a colleague, Jacquemin remembers asking, “If we were to pick one artist on our roster that we could try and maybe build something around, who was not just a beacon for other talent, but someone who felt absolutely representative of that country music space, who would that be?
“Brad (Paisley) was someone that people really held up. He’s got relationships with everyone. Everyone loves him,” he said.
From there, the channel came together: Paisley jumped at the chance to be involved, said Jacquemin. The idea was never to create the “Brad Paisley channel,” rather, the musician saw it as a “great creative sandbox for him to create within and curate around.”
The channel launched in August 2014 and has gone on to establish tentpole programming with 13 original short-form series including 46 Hours, Starter House, This Week in the Nation, Karaoke Kab, Mabe in the USA and Simply Sara. The channel began production this week on Uber Country – its newest original series shot in and around the CMA Music Festival in Nashville. In partnership with Warner Bros. Records and car-service Uber, the series will feature some of the biggest country music superstars and their interactions with their fans.
Featured artists on the channel include Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, Jason Aldean, Sara Evans, as well as YouTubers (and sister songwriters) Megan & Liz (pictured), prankster Tom Mabe and Justin Flom.
The partners give credit to Paisley (who’s gone on to grow his YouTube presence to 67,627 subscribers) for helping draw big-name artists to the channel and market the concept. He also named his 2014 tour the My Country Nation Tour. A video for his song, Country Nation, which was released on his current album, was released exclusively on MyCN, drawing two million views to date.
In total, the channel has drawn an estimated 18.4 million views (Country Now, by comparison, has 10.2 million views), with its short-form content (three to five-minutes in length) retaining close to 70% of its audience.
“That’s a real win whenever you can do that,” said Tom Forrest, Taillight CEO.
That the channel recently won a second year of sponsorship from retail giant Walmart may be the best sign yet that the team is on the right track.
Walmart was a founding sponsor of the channel at its launch, integrating its brand into family-friendly content such as a 10-episode DIY series, Starter House, featuring YouTube stars The Nive Nulls (264,856 subscribers). The retail giant’s banner also appears alongside other programming, and in pre-roll advertising before the video.
Coming to digital from a linear space has been a learning experience, the partners said.
“At first we kind of approached it from a broadcast mentality and we missed the mark on a couple of programming concepts,” said Forrest.
Digital, he said, “really has to be voyeuristic or character driven. Story lines are secondary to the personality. That was a really important lesson.”
As for those modest subscription numbers? “That is our next big push,” said Forrest. “It’s just taking time to grow and find the series that are going to resinate with fans who are going to want to subscribe.”
Jacquemin agreed: “We’ve learned a lot from the first year and a lot of data has come through. Now it’s about fine-tuning and scaling as part of the next wave.”