What can publishers learn from the homegrown stars of YouTube?
Jasper Jackson @ - on 3/10/12
In the lead-up to our half-day Market Briefing seminar on Video Monetisation tools on 18 October, we'll be writing a series of analysis posts on the current and future state of video and broadcast media in a digital age.
Between the ages of two and 24 there is no more popular site in the UK. You watch videos on it, you can upload videos to it very easily and it's not all about the immortal skateboarding dog.
YouTube is massive and plays a key role in the media economy. Citi analyst Mark Mahaney predicts YouTube will make revenues of $3.6 billion (£2.2 billion) this year, with $1.2 billion (£742 million) going to video creators - the largest share going to a small number of official YouTube Partners with large followings.
A new breed of YouTube channels producing original content that are making money with incredibly low overheads. Here's a selection of eight YouTube channels that show the viral power of the platform, the revenue potential of self-published video and its ability to go mainstream.
An example of something that does almost exactly what it says on the tin, this channel features short sketches - generally less than two minutes - starring an orange with the eyes and mouths of show creator Dane Boedigheimer, which annoys other anthropomorphised pieces of food. Launched in 2009, it has racked up 1.3 billion page views and 2.5 million subscribers. Its popularity has resulted in a merchandising line, a spin-off computer game, and a TV series on the Cartoon Network.
Machinima is the art of creating 3D animated videos inside virtual environments, and the Machinima YouTube channel was originally a showcase for content generated by users in computer games.
Its main channel has 3.7 billion views and almost 5 million subscribers and it also runs a selection of channels focused on niche areas such as sports which attract tens of millions of views in their own right. Machinima launched before YouTube took off, only transferring to the site in 2007.
Though the channel still does well out of its user-generated videos, some of its most watched shows such as gaming news segments and games competitions are now produced by its 180-strong workforce, alongside game trailers which regularly top the most popular videos on the channels.
Another site doing well out of gaming videos is Yogscast. However, while Machinima is a large organisation relying on game trailers, Yogscast is a small operation almost entirely focused on irreverent content created by its founders Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane.
That hasn't stopped the main YouTube channel racking up almost 1.4 billion views, 2.4 million subscribers and nearly 3 milion viewers a day. Part of the site's success is its focus on cult world-building game Minecraft, which has a large and active community.
The BBC recently paid a visit to the firm's Bristol HQ which showed just how professional the Yogscast setup is. Far from being two blokes in their bedroom, there's a proper studio and staff to create their virtual Minecraft landscapes.
This YouTube celebrity is a good example of the practically-no-budget straight-to-camera approach that has produced some of the most successful YouTube channels. She delivers a range of ditzy monologues on topics such as "Things Girls Lie About" and "Packing a Suitcase". She often includes her dogs or boyfriend in the videos.
Total views on her site are 768 million and she has more than 4.3 million subscribers. Marbles is broadly representative of the sort of one-(wo)man shows that dominate the most-subscribed-to lists of YouTube channels. For an interesting take on how marketers could be using product placement with YouTube celebrities, read this post from the New York Egoist.
The Slo-Mo Guys
This UK channel is a great example of picking a concept and sticking with it. Its main outlay is a super-high-speed HD camera, which is used to film in very slow motion various activities such as kicking a football into the head of one of the channel's presenters and shooting water balloons with an air pistol.
While its total views of 125 million and a subscriber count of 1 million doesn't put them in quite the same category as some of the most successful sites, it is still potentially enough to generate significant revenues.
This UK channel is the video outlet for SBTV, and operation set up six years ago by 16-year old Jamal Edwards. Originally focussed on the west-london Grime scene, it has developed into a wider lifestyle broadcaster which describes itself as a "music and lifestyle media platform".
It features interviews and off-the-cuff performances from young music acts and is credited with helping launch the career of ginger singer song writer Ed Sheeran. It has a comparatively small subscriber base of just over 214,000 and only 125 million total views.
However, it has advertising and sponsorship deals targeted at a very niche audience, and does bespoke commissions and viral advertising for major brands. The linked SBTC.co.uk site also has an e-commerce store selling the broadcaster's own brand clothing.
Beauty advice has proved a winner on YouTube (see the story of Lauren Luke), and Elle and Blair Fowler's AllThatGlitters is a prime example of how to to produce a high-quality niche YouTube show.
Though a total subscriber count of just over 810,000 doesn't put the channel in the upper echelons of YouTube, the channel has racked up more than 125 million views, and Elle Fowler and sister Annie benefit from a huge number of free products they are given by companies trying to garner the attention of their readers (though the Fowlers insist they only write about the products they like).
Another good example of taking a simple theme and repeating, FPSRussia features an American, Kyle Lamar Myers, playing "professional russian" Dmitri Potapoff. The concept - shooting guns and blowing things up - is one that perhaps points to the kind of audience that uses YouTube.
It's an approach that has got Myrers' main site more than 470 million views and 2.8 million subscribers, and his spin-off sites also have huge followings.
None of these channels required serious outlay to set up, but each of them has managed to attract the sort of audience most traditional broadcasters would be happy with. Total revenues from YouTube won't get anywhere near the sort of money TV advertising currently brings in, but production costs are so low that the video makers we've profiled could well be making more than decent salaries out of it.
Google is ramping up its YouTube monetisation efforts, and YouTube still growing its audience figures by 20 percent year-on-year. That means there is a growing market for these channels, so expect them, and YouTube itself, to continue to expand.
Image by Rego on Flickr via a Creative Commons licence