Business News Digital Education & Events The Great Escape 2016

CMU@TGE: Making video that succeeds online

By | Published on Wednesday 8 June 2016

Nic Yeeles

Look out for insights, advice and viewpoints dished out at this year’s CMU Insights @ The Great Escape conference here in the CMU Daily throughout June. This week, some of the takeaways from the YouTube focused strand.

Presenting as part of the ‘Making video that succeeds online’ section of the YouTube strand, Nic Yeeles, the founder of Peg – a search engine which connects YouTubers to brands – spoke about the power of YouTube stars over traditional celebrities, and how collaboration can be the key to unlocking that power for the music community.

Speaking about his previous role as Brand Director of Simon Cowell’s YouTube-based set-up ‘The You Generation’ – “essentially a pop culture show, specifically on YouTube” – he said that his “aha moment” in realising just how big this new generation of stars had become occurred when he attended the annual VidCon jamboree in the US in 2013.

“Tonnes of YouTubers and their fans go”, he recalled. “It’s like Beatlemania, but there are 1000 Beatles running around. To give you an idea, I was talking to one YouTuber – I had no idea who she was – but afterwards people wanted to have photos with me just because I’d been talking to her. Turns out she was this little known YouTuber called Bethany Motto, who’d had over three billion views on YouTube”.

“Later there was this YouTube party, that only YouTubers were allowed into. Fans wait outside and as people leave, they hope it’s one of these YouTube stars. So as I came out of the elevator doors, there this wall of screaming fans hoping that I’d be someone famous too, and then this girl comes up to me, she looked about twelve, and says, ‘you smell famous’. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I feel so fucking violated'”.

Everything with ‘The You Generation’ started well, he said. “We got 100,000 subscribers on YouTube before we’d even launched any content, which was pretty much unheard of. And we had the dream line-up here, in that we had arguably the biggest man in entertainment behind the operation and, at the time, Google were funding it and helping us with it. Plus we had access to top A-list celebrities, and our sponsors were Microsoft and Unilever. And then our viewing figures dropped off a cliff”.

“I started describing working on YouTube as like going to a planet that looks identical to Earth, but where the laws of physics don’t apply”, he continued. “You go to do something really basic, like pick a ball and throw it, and it just stops and you’re like, ‘What the fuck?’ Nothing happens how you expect it to happen. So we had to completely change our strategy”.

The key change, he said, was to start collaborating with the YouTube stars he’d just discovered. “We’d create two videos – one that sat on our channel and one that sat on the YouTube creators’ channel, and we basically teamed them up with one of the artists who we had access to. And when we launched this new strategy, literally overnight it became the fastest growing YouTube channel in the world. Over the course of the next six months we became the biggest Google-funded channel in UK, the second biggest in Europe, and the fastest growing channel on multiple occasions”.

“It was just undeniable that when we worked with a traditional artist on their own, we saw little to no impact on the stats at all, and when we teamed them up with a YouTuber, bang, we’d get a crazy spike again”, he said.

Wondering what it was that these people – largely unknown in the mainstream media – had over big name artists, he began asking the YouTubers what they thought the secret was. “And they all said the same thing, which is basically, their fans consider them a friend. So they’ll literally come up to them in the street and just start talking to them as if they know them”.

“The traditional media industries have done a brilliant job of creating these prefect, polished images of celebrities and artists”, he continued. “We put them on these pedestals, we aspire to meet them, but they’re kind of unreachable. And we don’t necessarily want to be their friends. Then you look at someone like PewDiePie and you’re like, yeah, I could see myself being friends with him”.

Does this mean that all artists working in traditional systems should now follow the lead of the successful YouTubers? Not necessarily, says Yeeles “There are a few things that you have to bear in mind. One, it takes an awful lot of time. PewDiePie used to film, edit and upload four videos a day. That is a lot of time. So if you’re a recording artist and you’re trying to tour and write songs, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to do that”.

“The other thing is that success is contextual”, he added. “So, when you see these people with millions and millions of subscribers, it’s usually taken them five, six, seven, eight years. And they never set out to become these massive YouTubers with huge subscriber bases”. Which means they never spent beyond their means.

“We read all these articles about how much revenues these YouTubers make, but they’re individuals [with lower costs], and also, [the big earners are] in the minority. Most people are not making a lot of money off YouTube. So when you’re a business, with business overheads, it’s incredibly difficult”. So if YouTube isn’t your main focus, but nevertheless an important channel, “it all comes down to collaboration”.

He gave an example of “one of the weirdest moments of my life”, pairing former Labour leader Ed Miliband up with YouTuber Sprinkle Of Glitter during the last General Election campaign. “What was interesting about this was that Labour had previously uploaded a video with Martin Freeman“, he said.

“The likes to dislikes ratio on that one was incredibly negative. But on this one it was incredibly positive. The top comment on the Martin Freeman one was, ‘Vote Labour? I’d rather slam my dick in a car door’. And the top comment on this one was, ‘I used to think Ed Millband was a twat, but now I think he seems like a great guy’. So it’s amazing to see the influence that these YouTubers have because people consider them their friends”.

Hence the value of collaboration. Yeeles likens it to being a new kid at school. In an attempt make friends, you could buy everyone a bar of chocolate, or you could befriend the most popular kid in the playground, which is a much quicker and less costly way of working. “If you collaborate with these creators, who already have these massive fanbases, or friend bases, whatever you want to call them, it’s a much quicker and more powerful way of getting your artist out there”, he said.

As a smaller label or artist “you’re not going to get to work with Zoella”, he noted. “But you can work with smaller creators and it still works just as well. Also, if you can find a YouTuber who’s already a fan of a smaller artist, then that’s also a way in”.

“And if you’re still sceptical of this whole YouTube world”, he concluded, “then I really recommend, just go get smelt by a teenager, because it changes everything”.