Maker Studios is one of the biggest multi-channel networks (MCNs) on YouTube, with more than 55,000 channels, 380m subscribers and 5.5bn monthly views. It’s also being acquired by Disney in a deal worth $500m upfront, and up to $450m more based on hitting performance targets.
It’s a big player, and today the company ran one of the MIP Digital Fronts, hosted by René Rechtman, its president of international. He was joined by two of the network’s stars: actor, musician and comedian Chester See and gamer Joseph Garrett – aka Stampylonghead, whose YouTube channel focusing on Minecraft and other games attracts more than 150m monthly views.
“I think we are in a very very special time right now,” he said. “The world is changing, and the reason I joined Maker was because of that. I want to be part of something much bigger than what we are doing: it’s democratising creativity and media… It’s a big opportunity for all of us. We should embrace this.”
He gave some numbers. “YouTube has now become the second biggest search engine. So we go there, we search. And six billion hours of video is watched every single month. And a lot of that is happening with the mobile device. The numbers are insane. And it’s driven by 2.5bn people that are under 34, that are influencing a trillion [dollars]of spend. It’s a new generation: it’s a gap we haven’t seen before, a fundamental gap between what we used to do, and what’s going on.”
He added that these people see their first screen as the screen in their pocket – their phone – with all other screens “just part of the experience”. He added that if TV companies want to reach these young viewers, they have to work with MCNs. “Networks like Maker are now becoming more important than the traditional cable players… according to Nielsen if you want to reach the millennials, you have to come to us, or other players like us… and we do it for 5-10% of the cost of traditional TV.”
Rechtman talked about Chester See, who has just under 1.5m YouTube subscribers and 20m views a month on his channel, with more than 280k Facebook likes, 215k Twitter followers and 148k Instagram followers. “Look at the numbers here: he is bigger than some household names!” said Rechtman.
“Why is this happening? It’s happening because as consumers, we are also fans. And now fans are becoming hobbyists, and hobbyists are becoming creators. We need to understand this conversation,” he said. “We cannot be as protective as we have been historically. It is not a one-way street… And it is going further than this: Fans, hobbyists, creators are the new publishers. And they are the new distribution… Fans are now becoming more important for promotion of messages than they have ever been before.”
He said that of Maker’s 380m+ subscribers, 80% are aged 13-34, 40% are watching on mobile devices, and 60% are outside the US. “This is a global phenomenon,” he said, talking about the Stampylonghead channel, which is made in the UK. It has 2.2m subscribers, more than 160m views a month. And as a parting shot to the TV industry, Rechtman said this: “We had the newspapers who neglected what happened, the music industry neglected what happened. We cannot do the same. We need to embrace the change.”
Garrett talked about how Stampylonghead got started. “It was a complete accident: I wanted to get into gaming journalism, I did video production at university, and I worked very hard on YouTube for a few years doing gaming critique, gaming reviews,” he said…. for fun I started recording what are called Let’s Plays, where you’re playing and recoding at the same time… That blew up, and I immediately realised that kids were watching, so I immediately cut out all the swearing, made it family-friendly, made it bigger and brighter, and now that’s what I’m doing as a career. Completely by accident!”
It’s 100% him: “I record it, I edit it, I upload it. Any business side of things is now with Maker, but in terms of content production, its just me. It’s the classic image of YouTuber in bedroom with microphone!”
Over to Chester See, who has been online since 2006 or 2007, then started putting his videos on YouTube. He talked about the business aspects of what he does. “Even more so than the ad revenue, once you’ve got an audience, there’s so many ancillary revenue streams that you can create, and it’s extremely powerful to have that level of engagement with that audience… then it really becomes a business very quickly, and very sustainable.”
Garrett puts out a lot of videos, and he said one reason was that “you can’t have a gap, because people wander very easily”. See agreed: “The kid at home that’s watching. Let’s say they allocate an hour and a half at a time watching YouTube videos. That’s fixed… and there’s so much content now on YouTube, it’s so over-saturated, if you want to maintain your audience, there’s a certain value now for consistency, more so than before.”
See added that quality is “the most mis-used word in the space… you have to understand what the incentive of he content creator is… The first thing people think of is production quality: how are things lit? But I could easily challenge you and have a TV show versus JacksGap have a quality of engagement competition, and see who wins. That’s quality content, whether it’s filmed from a camera on your computer or a whole crew behind you, you can’t really compare the two. They’re different things.”
Garrett talked about planning. “Scheduling is crucial. I’ve never announced a schedule, I’ve never advertised anything, but they know if they go to my channel at this time each day, there’s going to be a new video up every day… if it’s not, my inbox fills up with a lot of children letting me know and asking why that video isn’t there yet!… You’re involved in their life more for me than a kids’ television presenter would be: they’re messaging me, they’re sending me pictures. You become more of a friend to them.”
He added that everything he does is shot within virtual spaces – Minecraft in particular – and noted that the Stampylonghead character can live elsewhere. “He could live in other spaces and other medias”.
Meanwhile, See talked about not feeling the pressure to push his music and videos outside YouTube. “I’m more excited about the sustainable business that is YouTube,” he said. “There’s a big benefit to being multi-plaform, and being able to utilise radio, or finding other platforms to distribute content, obviously, but what excites me most… I’m really really excited about the music industry.”
How so? I can’t wait to see what happens… Okay, Top 40 is controlled by radio, and most of the top radio artists are really cover artists, they didn’t really write the songs… In reality, they’re just the first ones to get distribution to the masses, so we attach their names to he songs. That’s interesting to me, because radio distribution is not the only distribution. We are seeing some signifiant distribution channels emerging online.”
For example, he cited YouTube group Boys Avenue, who cover popular songs. “If Boys Avenue takes a song like All of Me, and they make a version of it… and they hit enough people quickly, who’s to say that they’re not gonna be the name attached to that song, and who’s to say they’re not going to hit the tipping point first, and have that be the song that everyone’s passing around?” he asked.
“We are truly seeing the democratisation of music, and we are really close to seeing some exciting moments happen. You look at the singer/songwriters chart now, and it’s all YouTubers! If I release a song, I know I’ll make Top 100 on the singer/songwriter charts… We’re selling a significant amount.”
Over to Garrett for an announcement about his plans for Stampylonghead. “We’re setting up a new channel with Maker that’s going to be purely educational. I think Minecraft is an amazing platform – the fact that it is a open sandbox to do whatever you want in it, and two, everyone’s playing it, and if you’re not playing it, your kids are playing it,” he said. “If you take their engagement and put it into a more productive space like education or the arts, they’re going to be involved in that, they’re going to be engaged.”
The final thoughts from the session. “If you ask who the star is in London now, it’s not David Beckham. It’s Stampy!” said Rechtman, before Garrett talked about why he finds YouTube so inspiring. “I’m a very big introvert, I’m very shy. I’m getting better now, but growing up I loved the idea of telling jokes, but not in front of people, when people are there,” he said. “By using this media I can be at home in my bedroom behind a microphone in my safe area, but have millions of people watch it.”
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