Produced By Conference: The Million Channel Universe
Marc Almon on creating, launching and monetizing web content, with insights from featured internet producers and the people behind Jimmy Kimmel Live and the YouTube Next Lab.
Blogging from L.A., Halifax-based producer Marc Almon, attending the Produced By Conference with the support of Film Nova Scotia, shares trends and insights from the conference for producers.
In the afternoon of my first day at the Produced By Conference, I entered the Kim Novak theatre to watch a panel discussion entitled The Million Channel Universe: Creating Popular Entertainment in the YouTube Age.
The discussion was moderated by Tim Shey, Director of the YouTube Next Lab, and featured internet producers Chris Hardwick, Founder of Nerdist.com, Michelle Phan, Founder of MyGlam.com, and Doug De Luca, Executive Producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live. What followed was a remarkably witty and insightful discussion of how to make hit programming on the web.
Shey kicked things off by noting, “everyone now is a curator of content.” People are “sharing things as a form of personal expression.” In such a world, how does one find an audience who wishes to share your content? How does one make money from this? And how does producing for the web differ from other forms of production?
Hardwick, who frequently betrayed his background as a comic in his answers, focused on a simple metric: “What would I like to see? What’s fun?” Frequently frustrated by the restrictions of television production, Hardwick founded Nerdist.com in order to express himself creatively.
Phan suggested that it’s important to have high production values; yet the content must be easy to produce and upload. The audience was treated to a short clip of a video entitled Midnight Kiss, which was simple but beautifully realized in terms of its photography, costumes and, of course, make-up. Phan explained that she made the video in half a day with the help of a few friends.
“I’m always reading my audiences’ comments, listening to their feedback,” stated Phan. She adapts her programming for her fans, while making content that is a true expression of herself. “I’m a beauty journalist… I have to be authentic,” she said. As a result, Phan’s videos have garnered over 530 million views, and her YouTube channel has over 1,800,000 subscribers, bigger audience numbers than the Style Network.
De Luca got into internet production through a different route. Already a successful producer of television, he faced a problem with his show Jimmy Kimmel Live. “ABC was
skewed toward older audiences as well as women, while Jimmy Kimmel Live was popular with young men.” The question was, how can we reach this young male audience?
As Jimmy Kimmel Livewas “already producing short form comedy content,” it became obvious a lot of this content would be a perfect fit for the web. However, De Luca faced resistance inside of ABC. In fact, it would require De Luca and his associates uploading the content anonymously for the material to get out there and find a significant audience online. This was 2006, and back then “they [the network] believed YouTube was stealing audiences from them.”
Even when it became obvious that the online segments were helping the profile of the show, De Luca continued to face resistance from the legal department within ABC. As a result of these battles, “we insisted on control of the YouTube channel” for Jimmy Kimmel Live, unlike most other ABC shows, which the network controlled.
Fascinated by De Luca’s story, Hardwick described the television industry as “so glacial.” “I can just see an ABC executive going, ‘Ok, what’s the internet?’” De Luca was quick to point out that the network was now strongly behind the show’s internet presence and strategy.
At this point, Shey followed up with another question: “What are the most important things to know when launching content?”
“The titling of a video is critical,” ventured Hardwick. “You have to think of SEO [Search Engine Optimization.]“ The title must suggest action and/or humour. And the most important words should come first. He gave an example: “So instead of ‘Celebrity Bowling with John Hamm’, we would title it ‘John Hamm is Perfect. Even at Bowling.’”
Attractive thumbnails are also really important, notes Phan, as well as tagging the content with key words.
Hardwick believes “joining forces makes a lot of sense in the world of YouTube.” This can be achieved via collaborations with other internet figures. “You’re cross-pollinating audiences.”
Although it is important to effectively launch an internet property, the panelists stressed that internet content is not necessarily like movies or major television shows, where achieving high numbers right away is critical. “You have to think long term,” states Hardwick. “We test things out.” The Nerdist will make one-offs, or do a limited number of episodes. “After five episodes, you should know whether the concept is working or not.”
Phan agrees: “The internet is very forgiving… you can make changes to content as you roll it out.” The key is to “get audiences engaged. Get them contributing. It builds loyalty.”
Hardwick adds that it’s important to look at the retention rate. “You’d rather have 100,000 views where everyone watches it through, than 1,000,000 views, and most people stop watching after ten seconds.” In the end, “there are no rules,” especially when it comes to length of programming.
After watching such an interesting panel, it reinforced this sense in me that web broadcasting is extraordinarily powerful, but yet far from an exact science. The best way of discovering its possibilities is by challenging your creativity, producing content that you like, and observing what happens when it reaches out to the vast online world.
Photos courtesy producedybconference.com