We’re now in the third wave of video-content producers. The first ones like Pop.com or Pseudo were too early (no one had broadband). The second wave, like Mania, Ripe and Heavy had to build their own infrastructure and invest in marketing while creating content and growing distribution. The third wave included players like Revision3 and Next New Networks who sought to build their own destinations but ultimately gave up, relying on distribution wherever it made sense. Over time, with YouTube emerging as the main platform in video, the distribution strategy evolved to being largely based on YouTube. The fourth wave of creators are those who have the benefit of hindsight and bet the farm on YouTube. It's a great strategy to scale, but obviously, it's not perfect.
Personally, the best decision I made was not relying too much on YouTube early on. At a time when many popular channel operators on YouTube were sporting massive audiences but failing to stay afloat, we had a myriad of distribution companies who were clients, paying us licensing fees to access our catalog. It was never going to scale the way other strategies might have, but it made sense then.
Yet the worst decision I made was not betting more on YouTube early on. I know, I just contradicted myself.
A simple Google search can yield what kind of revenue split and what kind of CPMs YouTube channels can expect. Without a doubt, it's not ideal. But the bottom line is that when you consider all of the moving parts that are required to come together to produce, publish and syndicate content, YouTube is arguably the best ROI option out there.
Everybody seems to like competition until they lose. At which point, they complain about the perceived injustices. In other words, if YouTube isn't cutting for you as a business, the problem may be rooted in the fundamentals of your business. Maybe you raised too much venture capital. Perhaps your offerings aren't differentiated enough for marketers to care. The reality is, YouTube has actually become a safety net for most creators who would never be relevant enough (despite their possible size, audience, content etc) to marketers in an ever-more-fragmented media landscape.
I realize that the biggest mistake companies (be it media or tech) make is to believe their own PR. When a viewer subscribes to a channel, without a doubt the creator deserves a lot of credit; but failing to realize that to an entire generation, YouTube IS the channel -- and, at least implicitly and figuratively speaking, the creator -- is part of that mistake.
I don't recall anyone lining up to help Google defray the costs of YouTube early on when it was a money loser, or, for that matter, sign the $1.65 billion check required to acquire the site. But now that YouTube is a profit machine and has helped Google become as dominant in video as it is in search, everybody's showing up, hat in hand.
YouTube's not perfect -- nothing is. I sometimes wonder if the folks who launched Ripe (and went through $45 million in venture funding) would love to have had YouTube around in their era. I then ask: are YouTube's critics willing to trade places with the earlier generations who had to worry about everything themselves?
To each their own, but I don't need to have lived in the Dark Ages to know that I don't want to have lived in that era.
It's tougher today than ever before to be in the content business -- yet we're in the golden era of content, too. There I go again with the contradictions.