“I was the weirdo on YouTube before anyone knew what it was!” said Danny Zappin, early in the New Media Moguls session at MIPCube this afternoon.
Not so weird now: his company Maker Studios is now attracting up to 80m unique viewers a month to its YouTube channels, having been formed in 2009 by Zappin and Lisa Donovan – one of the earliest YouTube stars under her channel name LisaNova.
“The idea was can we create a studio infrastructure that we could share across multiple channels and then partner with our friends on YouTube, who had a large audience already, to share audience,” said Zappin.
Since then, it’s added a video gaming channel, lifestyle, music, mums and other verticals – 400 channels in all. “We have about 650-700m views a month, and around 70-80m unique viewers per month,” said Zappin.
The US accounts for 50% of this audience, Europe another 25%, and the rest is the rest of the world, with some channels that started as English-language affairs being localised for other countries with new presenters.
Donovan noted that Maker Studios’ videos are ad-supported, and have additional brand integrations with specific partners. “It’s proof that there is a serious audience watching this content, and you see the engagement – they’re writing comments,” she said.
The company has its own sales team to complement the money coming in from ads placed around its videos by YouTube. Zappin noted that it’s important for anyone publishing content on YouTube to not rest on their laurels when it comes to building an audience (and advertising dollars).
“YouTube’s a platform, it’s not automatic distribution. The distribution is earned and built by building a subscriber base,” he said, adding that social media engagement is also hugely important. “It’s all about building audience. If you have an engaged, large audience, there’s a lot of ways you can monetise it.”
The company has said no to nine out of 10 branding deals that were offered, in favour of being smart and “not doing anything that damages our brands, and the audience’s trust in the individual (star).”
Donovan added that the talent has to be committed to the platform: “We’re not really looking for people who see this as a stepping stone to somewhere else.”
Zappin said that people also need to understand consistency and format, as well as engaging the audience by talking to them directly. “People subscribe to people is what I always say, they wanna feel like they know you personally as well as being entertained by you… You really have to build a personal connection.”
On Lisa’s channel in those early days, 80% of their time would be spent commenting and interacting, rather than creating the actual videos.
“That’s how entertainment is changing. What’s popular content now is often just people who feel connected to somebody, even with the mainstream stars like Lady Gaga. That’s a huge part of what our talent does, and that’s why their audiences are so potent.”
So people aren’t just producers, they have to do the audience engagement side too, which then gives them a platform to promote new shows and episodes.
What happens when someone wants to leave Maker Studios and go independent? “Nobody’s really left yet,” said Zappin, before suggesting that stars who want to go on and do projects like TV and film might soon be able to do that within Maker Studios – hinting at the company’s plans for more traditional projects.
How much money are these stars making? “You have to get a lot of views on YouTube to make a good living,” admitted Zappin. “Probably around 2-5m views a month range to consider it a good living. But the top top people are making very decent money.”