This post was originally written for The Jungle, a weekly newsletter about the business of YouTube. Subscribe here.
By Sarah Ullman
Movies starring YouTube creators on YouTube in partnership with AwesomenessTV will arrive this fall, per a YouTube blog post. Furthermore, YouTube will finance original series for four creators: The Fine Brothers, Joey Graceffa, Smosh, and Prank vs. Prank. Also, take note that YouTube recently “acquired” the new StampyLonghead series “Wonder Quest.” Presumably, this means Stampy’s show will live only on YouTube and the YouTube kids’ app, and not on other platforms like Maker.tv.
Firstly, is the platform really “ready” for long form? The UI/UX is continually adjusted, including a transparent video player perhaps meant to improve the viewing experience. Features published on YouTube will also have the added benefit of the analytics suite to review audience retention. (Hooray!) Producers will likely adjust the movie based on data gathered from the first YouTube window. Are we approaching a future when a feature is never truly “locked,” meaning each cut will be adjusted based on data feedback and distribution platform?
The essential question, of course: what is the business model for long-form content that lives on YouTube? Ad revenue can’t fully finance sustainable short form content, never mind long-form. Now that YouTube is financing content for its own platform, in a way it puts itself in the shoes of the creator. Brand deals, merchandising, live events, and distributing content on other platforms have been the accepted band-aid solution. YouTube says, “The films will all premiere globally on YouTube before they become available elsewhere, setting what we believe will become a new distribution paradigm for years to come.” Oh, reeeeallly? Only if it makes $$money$$.
Seems like they’re eyeing a theatrical release and/or other VOD platforms and acknowledging that YouTube is best leveraged as a marketing platform rather than a way to fully recoup a long form investment.
A friend at YouTube once told me that YouTube can do everything except for “press record”; for legal reasons (copyright-related, I think), they must always partner with a creator who is actually producing the content. This latest announcement is toeing that line. However, YouTube had to be bold; creators are fleeing for other platforms where they can make more money. YouTube always wants a piece of the business of the creators they “built,” and after all, “At YouTube, we have a core belief: we only succeed if our creators do.” Yes, creators are succeeding on YouTube but also in spite of YouTube. Making movies is a play designed to rectify that problem and remain at the core of digital creators’ business.
Sarah Ullman (@thesillysully) is a writer and creative consultant focusing on the YouTube ecosystem. She writes a weekly newsletter about the business of YouTube called “The Jungle” (subscribe here) and specializes in helping “traditional media” clients transition to the digital landscape.