Given Ray William Johnson’s undeniable presence on YouTube, it came as a surprise that the creator chose to release “Riley Rewind,” a five-part web series from his production company Runaway Machine, on Facebook first. According to Johnson, the pre-YouTube launch was part of a deal that he and Facebook had worked out to run the series exclusively on the social media platform for one day.
Although it may seem like Johnson was driven to post on Facebook solely by virtue of a nice paycheck, which he was surely given for the first rights, looking at the creators enigmatic and troubled history with YouTube as a brand, a Facebook-first approach could be easily justified.
First, let’s look at what Johnson stands to lose by posting on Facebook: “Riley Rewind,” given that it was released in its entirety on Facebook, will most likely be viewed as a whole by Johnson’s core audience. Only one hour after the series was launched, fans of Johnson began piling on the praise. One satisfied viewer writes: “Just finished #rileyrewind and i was super impressed, wasnt expecting as good of a show as it was, a HUGE congratz to anna and ray.”
With a positive reception and an active and engaging audience, it’s safe to say that a large heft of that demographic will watch on day one. With Facebook not running ads over the videos and Johnson having zero ownership of the platform, he stands to lose a significant chunk of money driven by YouTube pre-roll ad views. If the financial elements were not an immediate factor for Johnson, what was?
As mentioned, Johnson has had an ugly public relationship with YouTube for many years. In a recent episode of his Runaway Thoughts, the creator spoke hotly about YouTube, saying: “If I’m the face of YouTube, then I fucking hope it goes down. Fuck YouTube.”
It’s doubtful that Johnson launched his series on Facebook solely out of spite. However, his troubled relationship with YouTube and his former network Maker Studios could easily have played a part.
Since parting ways with Maker Studios in 2012, Johnson has largely been an independent creator. His legal dispute with the network over his channel’s AdSense accounts seems to have left the creator with feelings of resentment not only for the MCN structure, but also YouTube as a whole.
Back in May, during a Newfronts presentation, video platform Blip announced a partnership with Johnson and Runaway Machine. At the time, it seemed as if Johnson’s general distaste for YouTube would see him spending more time off-platform. However, Johnson’s plans were all but thwarted as Maker Studios, his former network, purchased Blip four months later. While both parties declined to comment as to whether the partnership stood now that Maker owned Blip, it seemed as if Johnson’s time with the video site was over.
With that, it’s unsurprising that Johnson would continue to look beyond YouTube for a potential video partner.
In the past, Facebook has made little effort to hide that fact that it wants to break into the space. Earlier last week, the social media company rolled out autoplay functions for videos on its mobile app. It is also rumored that similar functionality will arrive on the browser site sometime in the new year as well. A leaked Facebook pitch deck obtained by TechCrunch stated that the social media platform is gearing up to compete for TV and YouTube ad dollars. The deck claims that Facebook execs will tell advertisers, “Gone are the days when a family gathered around their TV on Sunday night to connect with the outside world,” and “Television is no longer a guaranteed way to reach and engage your target audience.” Additional information from the deck shows that Facebook is seeking video ad budgets of more than $1 million.
Clearly, Facebook is looking to make a massive push towards bringing in video ad clients very soon. Of course, they are going to need to tap into that most-coveted demographic of users first — Millennials.
Although Facebook is still going strong in terms of bringing in a younger audience (83% of 18 to 29-year-old web crawlers use it), a study released by The Future Company shows that teens (12–15-year-olds) are steadily moving from Facebook to YouTube. The reason for this? Well, it’s because of creators like Johnson. According to the study, of 4,014 teens surveyed, around 50% of them counted YouTube as their favorite site. By bringing over teen-drawing powerhouses like Johnson first, Facebook could potentially bring the majority of young people back to the fold.
Regardless of his motives, Johnson seems to have a relative hit on his hands with “Riley Rewind.” Although the numbers are harder to lock down on Facebook, the entire five-part series, since being uploaded yesterday, has received over 66,000 “Likes.” By any metric, that bodes well for both Facebook and its YouTuber talent integration.