Ray William Johnson NOT Starting a Network

On November 26, New Media Rock Stars reported that Ray William Johnson was starting his own production studio. Though not partnering with Julian Smith as originally reported, the two will be collaborating on a variety of projects. This is the next chapter in the career of YouTube’s biggest star since he left the network, Maker Studios.

What got my attention about New Media Rockstar’s interview with Johnson was his straightforward response when asked whether or not he would be starting his own network:

“No. That route certainly isn’t for me. I don’t know everything there is to know about Youtube-based networks, but as far as I do know, there’s no good reason to ever sign your Youtube Adsense account over to a 3rd party. Ever. Period. Anything a Youtube-based network wants to do for you, they can accomplish without seizing control of your Adsense account. If you want production or managerial assistance, then partner with a production entity or manager and pay them a percentage of your expected revenue, but don’t sign your Adsense over to them. Furthermore, from a business perspective, there’s no long-term business plan in owning a collection of thousands of Youtube Adsense accounts. Again, I say this having somewhat limited knowledge of every single Youtube-based network out there. I know there are dozens of them (networks) at this point, and who knows, maybe some of them are doing great things.”

I found it very enlightening to hear him say this. His point leaves me further pondering, what is the point of a network? He said things that I’ve found myself thinking. It feels like it’s just seizing your Adsense account over for no good reason. That is, if you already have branding features, as I do. But is it a scam?

I have always thought that it’s important to look at networks with a keen business eye, not just as a ticket to YouTube glory. With YouTube partnership, you can take the full profit of your videos without giving anything up to a third-party network. If you are giving a cut to a network, it’s as simple as making sure you are paying for something that you want. What is the network providing you, and is it worth the percentage?

But Johnson brought something to my attention that I hadn’t put into the equation, and that is that there’s no need to hand over your Adsense account to pay for a service. Anything that a network offers you, you can get without handing over the keys to your Adsense car. What is the point of handing your account to a network when you can buy your own music licenses, hire your own manager, hire your own graphic designer, or buy your own ads? It may seem seductive to have all these services lumped in with one network contract, but would they really be at the quality you prefer, and how much control would you be giving up of your own YouTube career?

I’ve heard many good things about networks, and many bad, but this has really given me a lot to think about.

Mike De Trana

Last week, by some crazy luck, I got to make a cameo appearance for popular YouTube channel, YOMYOMF. The video in question was produced by talent manager Mike De Trana, who was gracious enough to sit and chat with me for this little blog in return for my spontaneous, last-minute help.

Mike De Trana originally moved to LA to be a director, but quickly learned he was going to need to make some money before he was fifty. "I was good, but I wasn't good enough." He started his career as an intern for Joel Silver, which eventually led to him working for an agency. Eventually he grew a strong client base outside of the agency, leading him to starting his own business. When he left the agency, he had around five clients. Today, he has around forty. As far as his directing goal is concerned, for now, he's happy helping put together other people's projects. He gets a lot of joy out of putting out projects that others may not have believed in, and cited Nerdist show "Tournament of the Nerds" as one of his favorite accomplishments.

When choosing people to manage, he says he looks for people who are hungry but have also been through the system. He says that in the beginning he used to sign anyone he believed in, but unfortunately, it's too difficult to convince others to believe in someone who hasn't really worked before.

He believes the web is the future, and it's going to evolve the way cable did in the 80's. He concurs with the commonly-held opinion that guest spots and consistency are vital to success on the web. Still, he says there's nothing wrong with dabbling in multiple mediums.

He gave me his insights about following trends versus being totally original. He recommends going into a genre or theme that people are familiar with, but putting your own spin on it and defining your brand.

He also told me not to be afraid of being bold when marketing my channel to blogs or nurturing industry contacts. He said even if you might rub someone the wrong way, there's no need to stress, because they'll probably get over it quickly.

"I don't think being good is good enough," says DeTrana. "I think you have to be the best!"

I give Mike De Trana my most humble thanks for taking the time to share his perspectives and insights with me.

Contract Negotiations

In the past couple years, YouTube has changed a great deal. There was a time when it was a free for all, and anyone who had some content could slap it online and show the world. The abundance of content (much of which being illegal) forced YouTube to adjust the intense pressure on its engines. This led to the partner program. In April, when everyone had the power to be a partner, the age of networks officially began.

Now, networks can offer creators things that YouTube no longer can, such as music licensing, protection (from things like click-bombing), and promotion. Naturally, all these things come at a price, so networks are constantly looking for content creators to sign. Now, more than ever, it has become vital for content creators to learn how to protect themselves.

For this reason, I poked around online for advice about contract negotiations. First, I listened to “Business English Pod :: Learn Business English Online.” The two episodes I listened to focused on a staged negotiation between a business owner, Sam, and a representative of a vehicle leasing company, Larry. The first podcast focused on the art of seeking concessions – how do you make sure that your interests are protected? In order for Sam to protect his interests, which in this case was not being charged too much for mileage, he referenced objective criteria by pointing out a competing company that gave him a better deal. This kind of objective criteria was sewn into a careful use of language that was more based in suggestions than demands. This is an address of the “people problem,” which is that people have emotions that play a part in negotiations.

The second podcast focused on the “fine print.” Sam and Larry discussed warranty terms and response time for service. The podcast stressed that the contract should address specifics about who pays for what when, and who does what when. While in the first podcast, Sam addressed the people problem with suggestions, in this podcast, he addresses it by setting a positive tone with the phrase “I like where this is going.”

The third podcast I listened to was Salary Talk. Linda Babcock, a professor of economics who specializes in dispute resolution and negotiations, came on the show to discuss her book, Women Don't Ask: The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation. In the discussion, some disturbing points from studies were brought up. For example, men are four times more likely to negotiate their salaries than women are. Also, 85% of men polled believed they determined their own worth, while 83% of women believed their worth was determined by their employer. Babcock said that women are more likely to be apprehensive about negotiations because of what culture taught them growing up, and they can alleviate that stress by being properly prepared before entering a situation in which they must negotiate.

When looking into networks for my content, I will keep all of the above in mind. I need to protect my interests while being willing to make concessions, and I need to maintain the position that I define the value of my work and my content.

My Chat with Andie Bolt

One of the most powerful moves that I've made since moving to Los Angeles to pursue my career in web entertainment was interning with the Fine Brothers on the web series, MyMusic. This incredible opportunity allowed me the chance to sit and chat with Andie Bolt, the show's executive producer.

What intrigued me the most about Andie was she not only has experience with one of my career goals, but all of them. She has produced web-based comedy, but also writes and performs in stand-up and sketch comedy shows.

After having been groomed her whole life for a softball scholarship, Andie decided to abandon that path in favor of a career in comedy. Once she got a taste of the industry, she realized quickly she wanted to produce her own content.

She learned how to make films at LACC, a good school for people who can't afford USC and want to make material on a budget. "I was just filming sketches I wrote." She started putting her videos on ad-supported sites like Revver. "I remember one time we got a check in a couple years for like five hundred dollars, and we were like, 'wow, that's so cool!'" This put Andie on the path to the world of online video.

From there, she got a job working for National Lampoon's Lemmings, where she did a live sketch show and streamed it online through National Lampoon's website. This sparked the interest of will.i.am, who hired Andie to create exclusive comedy content on his website. There were problems with isolating the content this way, as oppose to putting it on YouTube. "We did some really amazing stuff that no one ever saw."

Andie stresses the value of being on YouTube rather than trying to launch your content on your own video site. Many companies were really trying to host their own content, while Andie believed in putting videos on YouTube where they have easier access to audiences. This philosophy was shared by the Fine brothers, who she met creating video sketch content for the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. "The Fines were saying that before anybody."

Andie was drawn to YouTube because it was a place where she could learn and grow to reach her goals. "When I was a kid and I really wanted to get into comedy I really loved comedic movies. I had a beta tape that had Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein on it and I watched both of those over and over again." She appreciates the long-form story of television, but there's an iconic aspect to film, and the way we pass those to our children, that she is passionate about being a part of. "I want to be remembered. I want to leave something."

Andie has her fingers in a lot of different pies. "I really admire people who are like, 'I do this one thing, and I do it well.' Because sometimes I worry that I'm too spread out." I relate to this a great deal, and I asked her what her opinion was about the career direction of a person who dabbles in stand-up, improv sketch, and web. I've always had my concerns about taking on all three and how to budget my time accordingly, and I was excited to hear the perspective of someone who was doing it all successfully.

Andie compares having multiple interests and disciplines to looking at religions. Take the parts that inspire you, and leave the parts that don't. You may like the "being in the moment" aspect of improv, but you don't like performing in improv shows. "You can take the elements that you like and put them together." She also pointed out that sometimes what starts as a sketch concept is too simple to be stretched into three minutes and can be boiled down to one great stand-up joke. "Where can those jokes live? They can live in my stand-up."

When I expressed my fear about focusing on the wrong project or discipline and wasting time, she said, "so many people are afraid they're doing the wrong thing. I think if you really like what you're doing, that's the important thing." A comedian might feel like they have to do sketch if they want to do comedy, but Andie says if you hate it, you don't have to do it.

I used this chat as an opportunity to ask her direct questions about my own insecurities about myself and my own channel. My views are humble at best, and I'm often caught in analysis paralysis over the best way to develop my career and market my show. She was very candid about what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong.

"You have to be your own salesman." She stressed the importance of believing in yourself, because if you don't, no one else will. "You are the only person who can help you." I asked her how I could possibly expect to garner interest with such few views, but she reminded me that views aren't the only thing a person can offer. "This is something that you've produced," she said, referring to my YouTube show. "You can point to a show that you've produced, that you've been able to sustain however long you end up sustaining it. 'Here's something I wrote, I produced, I put together a whole crew of people, I organized schedules, I was able to hit deadlines.' That's something that you have to offer." She also reminded me that the Dinz is my passion project, but I need to open myself up to the possibility of providing my skills to someone else's project.

I went into our conversation with a great deal of bitterness about my lack of attention from the audience I wanted. My audience is primarily 13-17 year old girls with an interest in pop culture, when I would rather target older audiences with an interest in social issues, current events, and applied philosophy. She warned me against focusing on the audience I want instead of the audience I have. "If you feel like that's the sense of humor you have, great, but don't cater it." She stressed I should do what I do and do it well, and let the audience be whoever they turn out to be.

She also addressed the frustrations I had about being on YouTube for two years without having an especially significant following. She put strong emphasis on being willing to wait for your big break. Most comedians who seem like overnight successes built up their skills for many years before getting attention. "I don't know Ricky Gervais," she said, "but I doubt he would trade in creating The Office to have been discovered when he was 25." She also pointed out, "you can't sprint a marathon." She told me to accept that I have entered a marathon, and even if I were to have a million subscribers today, that's only the first step to everything else I want to be doing. "You have to believe that you deserve that, and that you are that, and everything else will fall into place."

My conversation with Andie gave me a lot to think about. I left the conversation with a new perspective on who I am in this industry today and what lies ahead. I really do need to put more thought into the relationship between who I am and who I want to be, and the real reasons there is a difference between the two. Am I targeting the "wrong" audience because I'm not being true to myself in my content? Which is my priority - making changes to the channel to get major numbers now or waiting until my current content gets good numbers down the road? Is YouTube the end goal, or should I think of it as a pathway to bigger and better things? All that said, at the end of the day, it all boils down to her six simple words: "You just have to keep doing it."

Why PSY?

It has become a recurring question that may never have a straightforward answer: What makes a video go viral on YouTube?

PSY’s catchy “Gangnam Style” is an Internet sensation. He boasts the most “liked” video in YouTube’s history, and the only Korean-language song to reach number 1 on the iTunes chart. But why Gangnam Style?

Gangnam Style is not an unusual video, and to narrow down the field-of-view a bit, it’s certainly not unusual in Korean pop music. Colorful, amusing videos with catchy dance moves and slick music production are all staples of the genre.  Artists like G-Dragon and Girls’ Day have been putting out similar videos for years without even the slightest blip on the radar of Western pop culture. As far as the song is concerned, label-mates 2NE1 and Big Bang have released pop hits that are nearly identical in style. This is not to denounce PSY’s accomplishment, but to establish a premise for discussion.

There is only one distinctive quality that PSY possesses that is lost on all other similar Korean performers – Korean performers, rather notoriously, are ridiculously good-looking.

Picture for a moment a PSY that is handsome and chiseled. Would the video have been as much fun? Would the video have been as silly? The physical appearance of processed, mainstream-media performers is so off-the-charts that it rather crushes the ability of audiences to relate. Another problem with that reality is it creates an impression that good looks are a vital goal and are necessary for happiness. When PSY shows up, looking like an average Korean guy but shining as a beacon of pure happiness and reverie, this creates a beautiful, hopeful irony.

However, there are important gender and racial factors that I can’t help but notice, and they put a bad taste in my mouth. For one thing, Asian men are overlooked as sex symbols in American pop culture. Korean pop star Rain’s biggest claim to fame in American media was his joke feud with Stephen Colbert, not his oozing sex appeal as the star of Ninja Assassin. Korean pop titan Se7en’s attempt at the US market was completely ignored. Also, to focus on gender, Jenna Marbles has a huge push on YouTube because of her looks. It seems that, when it comes to YouTube, an average-looking man has a better shot, while a woman should be physically ideal.

This is just the tip of the iceberg in this discussion, but it’s something I’m going to keep an eye on from this point forward.

Ze Frank, A Web Entertainment Pioneer

In his TED speech, Ze Frank inspires the TED audience by focusing his speech on human connection. He describes the way he mobilized his internet audience by having them dress up their vacuum cleaners, put pieces of bread on various parts of the Earth to create an Earth sandwich, re-take their childhood photos as adults, and remixing and seeking out the performer of a viral music piece.

With great passion and vibrancy, Ze explains that Ray’s “I’m About To Whip Somebody’s Ass” inspired him to explore further how far-reaching, user-created media can touch people’s lives. He says, “this is what I wanted to do.” As I watched him, I concurred with this sentiment.

Ze continues to inspire when he brings attention to the way people are now living their lives on digital screens. While at first glance, it may seem like a dangerous trend, Ze reminds us that a perfectly valid aspect of life is being lived in the realm of Web 2.0.  He further explores this topic by bringing up what the end goal is – to connect. And if connections are taking place on the Internet that nurture genuine feelings, why not use the pathways that Internet introduces into our culture to maximize the potential of these connections?

Ze Frank is an expert on this topic, and his short speech offers a poignant reflection on his experiences. He criticizes the simplicity of how the resources for connectivity on the Internet are being utilized. He compares the Facebook “like” button to the scribbled notes of a third grader.

This is what I find particularly inspiring about his approach. These days, there is huge debate about whether or not YouTube can compete with television. Ze’s exploration of the potential of the web, potential that television lacks, is how he overcomes adversity. With Ze’s approach, it can finally come to light what the Internet can offer that TV cannot. TV and theaters can give you shows. What they cannot give you is interactivity.

Ze Frank is one of the few individuals active in the new age of web who has brought true divergent thinking and innovation to online entertainment. He is not only an inspiration to myself, but many who have made a name for themselves on YouTube.

You can view his TED speech here: http://youtu.be/3gSSNHO1dDs
You can visit Ze Frank's official website here: http://www.zefrank.com/ 

YouTube Wants To Help

YouTube nurtures the ambitions and abilities of its vast, content-creating audience with the YouTube Partner Program. YouTube partners are able to earn money from the content they post on YouTube, assuming they follow the proper guidelines. However, being a partner doesn’t just mean you can slap ads on your videos. It also opens you up to exclusive development programs and tools to create better content. YouTube wants you to succeed and create great content just as much you do.

These development programs include Next Vlogger, Next Comic, and NextUp. Participation in these programs offers opportunities for promotion, training, and mentorship. Partner Rewards are there for YouTubers who break boundaries on the YouTube platform, such as hitting major milestones in subscriptions or view counts.

YouTube has a vibrant and active creator community.  You can meet with other creators in your region by visiting one of the many community-run Creator Clubs. You can also communicate with other creators and receive free advice on the YouTube Creator Blog. There is a major push on YouTube to nurture and promote people who are creating original content.

And rightfully so.  YouTube is expensive, and it needs lucrative content to survive. In 2009, YouTube was at a point of absolute desperation trying to host all of its user-submitted content.  As stated in Farhad Manjoo’s article, “Do You Think Bandwidth Grows on Trees,” a simple fact kept YouTube from being lucrative: “Advertisers don't like paying very much to support homemade photos and videos.” For YouTube to be lucrative, it requires advertisers. For YouTube to have advertisers, it must have quality content. Therefore, YouTube wants you to have quality content, and investing in making your content better is in their best interest.

The state that we are in right now has created a beautiful synergy. This is an example of the market creating a win-win scenario. We want to be better. YouTube wants to make us better. Though the industry is in its infancy, the direction we are headed in is very positive.  YouTube is taking steps to make sure that the best content rises to the top, not just the most connected or the most fortunate. Development programs and communities help us inch toward a free Internet, where everyone can do their best, and may the best man win.

YouTube vs. Television

I was intrigued to see that New Media Rockstars had posted an article titled "Why YouTube Isn't Beating Television And Why It Never Will." I expected to be entertained and enlightened, reading about industry and technological truths that partner well with this title. I have found in my own  research that there are many reasons to believe this, and I was hoping for more tidbits to add to the discussion. I was left wanting.

For one, the title is misleading. While calling it "Why YouTube Isn't Beating Television And Why It Never Will," they should have titled it "Why YouTube Isn't Beating Television Yet." First, they claim YouTube doesn't have the quality of content that television does, yet they include no argument as to why it never could, even including the phrase "it will be a long time before anything on YouTube can replace them." So where does the "never" come into play? Next, they claim that YouTube doesn't have anything to offer that television hasn't beaten before. This is just a glaring untruth, considering the obvious way that YouTube offers interactivity to entertainment in a way that television is technically unable to.

They bring up a valid point when they say YouTube is too "snackable," offering little bits of content in short packages and falling short in terms of long-form content. What they fail to include in their argument is the "never" their title exclaims. They also fail to address the very legitimate reason YouTube is this way, and if they had done so, they would have better made their point.

The Internet is a goal-oriented medium with active users, as oppose to the passive users of television. People get on the Internet to do tasks, not to relax. This adds to the short attention-span audiences and the easier acceptance of short-form content. Had they made this point, their article would have better supported the argument that YouTube can't compete with television.

In their final paragraph, they explain finally that the YouTube format makes things too difficult for advertisers because people can click  away too quickly, and audiences aren't pulled through a commercial passively as they would be during a television commercial break. The glaring oversight in this article is how phenomenally easy YouTube and web video makes it for advertisers in terms of targeting the ideal market. YouTube videos are all classified with tags and by genre, and they are all dripping with immediately available demographic information. It doesn't require a market research company to identify a YouTube show's audience or their numbers - it only requires a mouse. Even witless machines can partner commercials with the right eyeballs, without a minute of time burned by an intern.

This topic is of great importance to me because I would like to see the platform of YouTube expanded. Why isn't drama flourishing on YouTube? Why has no long-form series exploded in popularity quite like The Guild? With the over-saturation of cheaply-made, user-submitted content, will YouTube ever be seen as a provider of professional, TV quality shows? In what ways can TV and web-based video work together to support each other's industry rather than be seen as competition to one another? I hope New Media Rock Stars posts articles in the future that address these issues with more diligence.

Helping the Cream Rise to the Top

The battle for quality content continues.

The most awesome thing about the Internet is also it's biggest problem. Anyone can post. If anyone can post, quality content is going to get buried under heaps of half-hearted user-submitted content and illegitimate information sources. If this isn't controlled, audiences aren't happy because they aren't seeing content they want, and content creators aren't happy because their quality content isn't getting seen. In order for the industry to survive, web video has to facilitate and environment that connects audiences to the content that they desire.

YouTube recently announced its intention to offer more enhanced watch-time analytics. This is an important turn of events, because YouTube has updated its "video discovery features," making videos easier for users to find based on the amount of time the viewer was engaged by the video. This is to prevent click-based video exposure, which can easily be acquired with trickery as oppose to creating quality content.

Click-based reward is very dangerous to the community. A well-known example would be Reply Girls, where girls who provide meaningless short video responses to viral videos position their cameras to show off their cleavage just to generate clicks. Videos also try to generate fruitless clicks with false tags and misleading titles. Every cent that goes to these people takes money out of the pockets of the genuine creators, and YouTube hopes to limit these efforts by rewarding only consistently engaging content with exposure.

Google is also making efforts to clean their listings of illegitimate content. The new algorithm will increase exposure to links unassociated with copyright complaints. Though on the surface this seems like a fair idea, it gives Google a great deal of power, and may give certain content creators the ability to take advantage of the new algorithm to take down competitors.

This has interesting philosophical implications about the future of web content. There is a tradeoff that we have to consider - if the Internet is free and unregulated, it will be inundated with junk content. In order to reduce junk content, we must have regulation. This limits our freedoms as creators, and gives power to the regulators to bury of promote certain content. This opens the floodgates to agenda-based exposure.

At this point, only time will tell how this issue will be resolved, but hopefully a free market assistant by non-biased algorithms will keep quality content afloat.

The Fine Brothers Win An Award at the Emmys!

So there I was, living the dream. I set sail to Los Angeles in May of 2012 with one dream – to work in web entertainment. After weeks of letdowns and rejections, I finally got an internship with The Fine Brothers, a duo that may as well YouTube royalty. I was on location as a production assistant as they shot the last episode of their current sitcom series, “MyMusic.” I was surrounded by Internet celebrities and soaking it all up.

Interestingly, I seemed to be one of the few on the project that was a certified web video geek. I had been watching The Fine Brothers for years, and I was pretty much tripping over myself in the presence of Jack Douglass, a web celebrity who has a leading role on MyMusic. Other people on the production were asking me questions about who these people were that were making me so starstruck and giddy.

I started to notice, along with a fellow P.A., that people kept walking up to Benny Fine and congratulating him. Congratulations, congratulations, way to go, awesome, go you. I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t know why, being that I had painted myself as super-mega-fan. Even the second P.A. turned to me expecting answers. I had none.

After the shoot, I discovered this.

The Fine Brothers had been presented an AOL-sponsored award at the Daytime Emmy Awards for “best viral video series” for “Kids React.” I can’t even begin to tell you the humiliation I feel for not being “in the know.”

The article linked above discusses the interesting possibility of the show moving to television. What’s interesting is how every traditional media industry has to approach the pressures to move onto the web, while the web is pressured to move into traditional media.

What makes “Kids React” (and for that matter, “MyMusic”) so special is its use of interactivity. Both projects nurture a sense of connectivity between people, and the Internet is the perfect platform for that. However, if television can get “Kids React” further outreach, more people will be engaged.

I leave this article wondering, should “Kids React” go to television? Or should we try to build stronger and wider audiences on the web? Some people think that web is the TV killer, but in reality, will the cultural hold of the “idiot box” be too great a match for the budding web entertainment industry? Would Kids React moving to television be like The Fine Brothers closing the curtain on web growth?

I don’t think so. It seems like at the end of the day, we’re all going to have to work together. Web, film, music, and television, all working apart and together, creating a vast space of entertainment for everyone to enjoy.

·      Kids React
·      MyMusic