Dumb Ways to Fail on YouTube: What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

/ Oct 18, 2013

Fail5

By Jim Louderback

As YouTube has become more of an institution, more and more brands and newcomers are attempting to stake out a place on the biggest video platform on the internet. And as they do, they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

As the site changes and matures, things that worked five years ago are no longer the smartest ways to build audiences and get views. This multi-part series will explore a variety of ways to deep-six your YouTube investment.

What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

Now that Revision3 is part of Discovery (and renamed Discovery Digital Networks), I’m once again exposed to traditional television production cycles. Shows here are planned, purchased, and produced in seasons. These are typically finite frequencies — 6, 13, or occasionally 26 episodes, with very clear start and end air-dates.

Want to fail on YouTube? Do the same thing. Thinking of your content in seasons — or even worse, delivering content at random intervals — is one of the most common ways to fail.

The most successful creators on YouTube know this intimately. Pick any top 50 channel at random, and you’ll probably find a set schedule of release that’s slavishly adhered to – whether weekly, daily, and even at set times during the day. Many top creators are even building new tightly-related properties for their channels that will increase weekly frequency while continuing to adhere to a rigid schedule. The incredibly talented Dane Boedigheimer just launched the first of a family of weekly scheduled series to enhance his “Annoying Orange” franchise, while Harley Morenstein — known for his weekly Epic Meal Time videos — just launched another regularly scheduled gaming channel.

It’s a hamster wheel. Creating successful franchises on YouTube means that once you start, you literally can never stop — or face audience erosion. Here at Discovery Digital Networks, we call it feeding the content monster. The audience is always hungry – and has very little loyalty to boot.

I learned this early on in my Revision3 days when we brought a show over to Revision3 called “Epic Fu.”  Created by the incredibly talented Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf (and originally called “Jet Set Show”), “Epic Fu” was one of the early YouTube successes. The creators decided to move their show from Next New Networks to Revision3, but ended up taking a few months off during the transition. Alas, even though they were slavishly dedicated to regular release, that gap caused a disastrous fall-off in views. With all the other new shiny things on the web beckoning, the audience moved on, and we never really figured out how to bring them back.

“But Jim,” I can hear you complain, “what about shows like ‘Video Game High School’?” The popular series just came back for a second season — about ten months after the first one ended — and it’s still huge.

True, “VGHS” is an anomaly — and a great show to boot. But even here there’s evidence that regularly scheduled content between seasons contributed to the second season’s success. During that 10-month hiatus, FreddieW and BrandonJLa released 22 new pieces of content on their channel, mostly video-game themed. Even so, there was still a drop-off between average YouTube views of Season Two  vs. Season One — although that could easily be explained by the additional distribution the latest episodes received on their off-YouTube site and other places.

I’ve always thought of web-original video as more akin to talk radio and news than traditional television, and my experience bears that out. Regularly scheduled releases — at least weekly — and no gaps are required if you want to be successful.  As a creator, you really want to develop habits, and regular temporal triggers make those habits easier to adopt. So take a tip from Daily Grace, Phil DeFranco, and just about every other successful YouTube star: Irregularity is a path to irrelevance.

jlouderback_cropJim Louderback joined Revision3 as the CEO in July 2007, and guided the company to a 20-fold increase in viewers, a 12x increase in revenue, 39 new distribution partners and 9 prestigious company and show awards. In 2012 he sold the company to Discovery Communications and now runs the Digital Networks business for Discovery — of which Revision3 is a part.

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  • Jeremy Azevedo

    I think what you’re suggesting here is great advice for topical news shows, vloggers, let’s players and the like, but not so much for people that aspire to create scripted narrative and/or animation content. I can think of dozens of shows in those categories that have maintained hundreds of thousands-to-millions of views per upload over several seasons.

    Also, VGHS isn’t really that much of an anomaly nor is it exactly an apt comparison to what someone like Grace Helbig or iJustine does. The intention of one (create a high-production value, narrative structured program with a clear beginning, middle and end) is worlds apart from the other (develop one’s personality/public profile as quickly and inexpensively as possible on what is essentially a video-based social media platform).

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