Here’s a gift giving idea for the upcoming holidays: Don’t wait for one of your friends, family, or colleagues to give you Streampunks: YouTube and the Rebels Remaking Media by Robert Kyncl with Maany Peyvan. Order it now and ship it to yourself as fast as possible. Or, find a bookstore near you, and buy it this evening on your way home from work.
Streampunks is not an autobiography from YouTube’s chief business officer and his corporate speechwriter that you can wait to read during that really quiet time during the 12 days of Christmas. No, this 272-page book tells the stories behind the rising stars and creative forces transforming media, which makes is more powerful than a locomotive that’s been stoked with tons of strategic insights, tactical advice, trends in the digital video marketing business, and critical data.
Streampunks is an exceptional book. How exceptional? Well, as long-time readers of Tubular Insights, fka ReelSEO, can tell you, I rarely write book reviews. In fact, I’ve written almost 400 columns for this online publication since July 2011. And until this one, only three of my earlier posts reviewed a book:
So, why should video marketers, content creators, publishers, brands, and entrepreneurs spend their incredibly valuable time reading Streampunks? Well, here are the four useful tips, three key trends, two killer stats, five vision things, and a small town in Missouri that you should know.
YouTube: Strategy Advice for Online Success
Content creators will find lots of tactical advice for launching successful channels, growing their audience, funding their creativity, and partnering with sponsors in the backstories of some of YouTube’s most influential stars. Here are just four useful tips:
- Kyncl and Peyvan write, “Authenticity is a term that is thrown around a lot in new media, but in a world in which anyone can curate how they are seen on social media, the importance of appearing genuine and accessible has only grown. And few creators convey that better than Tyler Oakley.” Oakley offers this advice to someone who wants to start a YouTube channel: “I would say, offer to YouTube what only you can offer. That’s going to be the reason that people subscribe. If you’re doing what someone else already does, you’ll be a second-rate version of that.”
- Streampunks says, “If there’s one thing Lilly Singh knows, it’s her audience. And that audience is global.” According to Tubular Labs, 41% of the engaged audience for the Superwoman (Lilly Singh) channel on YouTube comes from the United States, 8% from the United Kingdom, 7% from Canada, 6% from India, and 3% from Australia. Now, it’s easy to understand her appeal in Canada (she was born and raised in Toronto) and India (her parents are originally from Punjab). But, anytime she sees her numbers in Australia going up, she’ll throw them a shout-out – and her viewers Down Under love it.
- The authors acknowledge, “When John Green spoke to a gathering of our largest advertisers, he told them that he and his brother earn more money from their channel’s merchandise sales than from ads. In fact, he said advertising makes up only 20% of their total revenue and that share has been declining over time.” Three months later at VidCon 2015, Green explained, “Our educational channels Crash Course and SciShow are funded mainly by viewers who voluntarily support the shows through Patreon, and selling posters and t-shirts through DFTBA Records provides more revenue from merch than we’ve ever made from ads.”
- The book observes, “Perhaps nothing has pushed advertisers out of the comfort zone more than partnering with Internet creators. And there is no creator who knows more about partnering successfully with brands than Casey Neistat.” The YouTube personality, filmmaker, vlogger, and co-founder of Beme offers this advice to brands: “Tell them to find the creators that they actually like, create a dynamic relationship with them, and then empower the creator. ‘Here’s our product, here’s what we’re trying to accomplish. What can you do? How can you organically work this in a way that your viewers will find to be meaningful?’”
Three Key Online Video Trends
Publishers will find plenty of trends in the digital video marketing business that are radically changing the media landscape. Here are the dealmakers who have spotted three key trends:
- Kyncl and Peyvan explain how Scooter Braun, the founder of SB Projects, has built one of the most successful music management businesses in history. In 2007, Braun saw a YouTube video of a 12-year-old Canadian kid at a talent show. Following an extensive search, he was able to reach the mother of Justin Bieber on the phone. In 2012, his COO sent Braun an email with a link to a hilarious new YouTube video featuring a Korean American. The video was “Gangnam Style” by the K-pop artist Psy. Braun banged out a two-word response: “Find him.” Braun represents both artists. The JustinBieberVEVO channel has 32.4 million subscribers and almost 16.5 billion total views, and the OfficialPsy YouTube channel has 10.8 million subscribers and over 6.4 billion views.
- Streampunks says Brian Robbins, the founder of AwesomenessTV, got his major break in Hollywood while still a teenager, as an actor on the TV show Head of the Class. He played Eric Mardian, a bright rebellious high schooler who wore leather, rode a motorcycle, and hated school. But Robbins met someone in 2010 that he had never heard of before: Lucas Cruikshank, a young YouTube star who had invented a character named Fred Figglehorn. That night, Robbins asked his kids if they’d heard of Fred. “Of course we know Fred,” they replied. Robbins realized, “My kids were living in this whole alternative universe that no one in Hollywood was paying attention to.” Founded in June 2012, AwesomenessTV targets teenagers and preteens, aka Gen Z. Its YouTube channel now has about 5.7 million subscribers and gets over 58.7 million views a month.
- The authors say Shane Smith, the co-founder and CEO of VICE Media, was among the first in the news business to recognize that half of those between the ages of 18 and 29 get their news online. Smith also saw YouTube and thought that “nobody is making quality Internet video with a point of view and an attitude and a certain style.” And he realized, “The voice of God, ‘Here’s what you should think about this,’ language didn’t resonate. Whereas the ‘We’re going to press RECORD, show it to you, and you can figure it out’ was much more resonant with Gen Y.” Launched on YouTube in November 2013, Vice News now has almost 2.5 million subscribers and gets over 17.8 million views a month.
Two Killer Online Video Stats
Brands will discover there is plenty of critical data in Streampunks, although some of this data is critical of “the Mad Men gap” (aka biting the hand that feeds you) and other video intelligence reveals bias in online video (aka washing your dirty laundry in public). But, this just reinforces the point I made earlier about this being an exceptional book. It faces the facts and raises public awareness of an inconvenient truth. Here are examples of two killer stats:
- What is the Mad Men gap? Well, Kyncl and Peyvan explain that the most watched episode of Mad Men drew 3.5 million viewers nationwide, but Michelle Phan’s most popular video was watched by over 4 million viewers in just California. In addition, Bethany Mota and Rosanna Pansino draw much larger audiences on YouTube than Project Runway and Iron Chef get on cable TV. Nevertheless, most ad agencies were still putting far more advertising dollars into cable networks until four years ago. What changed? In 2013, YouTube spent tens of millions of dollars on an old-fashioned advertising campaign featuring Phan, Mota, and Pansino. It ran on local TV, billboards, subway cars, and taxicabs in L.A., New York, and Chicago. In less than three months, the traditional campaign raised advertisers’ favorable perception of YouTube by 20%, 90% of advertisers who recalled seeing an ad said that it had improved their opinion of YouTube’s quality, and 77% said the ads had increase the likelihood they’d advertise on the platform. That started closing the Mad Men But, brands have got to ask themselves: Do TV commercials and outdoor advertising still work that effectively, or are my ad agencies still asleep at the switch?
- Streampunks acknowledges, “While YouTube has a higher proportion of women, Asian, and Latino stars among its top channels than do the top TV shows and films, when it comes to the popularity of black creators, our numbers are no better than Hollywood’s. In fact, unless you count musicians, only one of YouTube’s one hundred most popular channels as of this writing featured a creator of African descent, the British gamer and comedian KSI.” Adande Thorne, aka sWooZie, is YouTube’s most popular black American creator, with almost 5.3 million subscribers and 25.4 million views a month. Thorne reveals, “I’ve noticed whenever there’s a thumbnail of my face, it always gets a worse reaction than a thumbnail of an animated image that I’ve drawn.” The authors admit, “Algorithms that recommend content or program our front page are designed to be impartial, but statistics show that they’re still subject to the same biases – unconscious, explicit, or systemic – that exist in society. Having an open platform where anyone can contribute content is not enough to guarantee equal representation.” What can be done about this? The book concludes, “If algorithms aren’t built with input from diverse perspectives, they risk mirroring existing biases in our society.”
Five Vision Things
Video marketers will discover that, despite the book’s title, Streampunks isn’t a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. In fact, the book is so full of strategic insights into the new media rebellion reshaping the modern world that it actually belongs in the 21st-century nonfiction category. Here are five vision things that are hidden in plain sight on the back cover of Streampunks:
- Michelle Phan, an American make-up demonstrator and entrepreneur who became notable as a YouTube celebrity, says, “Thinking of starting your own new media career? Read Streampunks It’s a revealing, thoughtful portrait of what success in the digital age really takes.” Now, according to Tubular Labs data, Phan’s YouTube channel has almost 9 million subscribers and gets over 2.6 million views a month. So, she knows what she’s talking about.
- Conan O’Brien, an American television host, comedian, and television producer, says, “Discovering YouTube was the happiest accident of my life. It’s allowed me to share my comedy with the world and reach an entirely new global audience. Fans have even told me they’ve learned English from watching my show on YouTube – which is a mistake.” According to Tubular’s data, Team Coco’s channel on YouTube has almost 5.3 million subscribers and gets 104.7 million views a month. So, “The Ginja Ninja” from Brookline, MA, isn’t joking.
- Camila Cabello, a Cuban–American singer and songwriter, says, “I grew up in Cuba without access to the Internet. When I finally came to the United States, YouTube became my window to the world. Streampunks is an amazing description of experiences similar to mine.” Tubular reports the CamilaCabelloVEVO channel has over 2.6 million subscribers and got 175.9 million views in October 2017. So, we need to listen to her.
- Reed Hastings, an American entrepreneur as well as the co-founder and CEO of Netflix, says, “Robert’s vision is clear and compelling: the future of media will be one in which fans decide what matters.” Now, Kyncl was Vice President of Content Acquisitions at Netflix from 2003 to September 2010, when he joined YouTube. And, with the launch of YouTube Red in October 2015, Netflix is now a competitor. So, kudos to Kyncl for getting high praise from his former boss.
- Brian Grazer, an American film and television producer, says, “If you want to understand how media is changing, you need to understand YouTube. Streampunks is a fascinating look into the imaginative and determined minds of the people who are changing what we watch.” Now, Grazer co-founded Imagine Entertainment in 1986, with Ron Howard. Their films have grossed over $13 billion and they won an Oscar for Best Picture for A Beautiful Mind. So, we should take a long look at what he sees.
A small town in Missouri
Entrepreneurs will want to read Chapter 7. Its title is: “Stick to Your Quilting.” And its subtitle is: “The Deep Appeal of Narrow Niches.” They’ll be pleasantly surprised that it features the small town of Hamilton, Missouri, which is located an hour north-east of Kansas City. And it features Jenny Doan, a prominent quilter and the face of Missouri Star Quilt Company.
Kyncl writes, “Jenny Doan isn’t like a lot of the names you’ll encounter in this book. She’s not a Millennial with millions of followers or a new-media mogul. She is the unlikeliest of streampunks, a baby boomer with seven children and 22 grandchildren whose charm, warmth, and sense of humor help power the economy of an entire Midwestern town. Jenny is the personality and talent behind the Missouri Star Quilt Company and easily the most famous quilter in the world.”
The Missouri Star Quilt Company channel on YouTube features “the best free Quilting Tutorials on the web!” And my wife has watched a dozen of them. The Missouri Star Quilt Co. website features “The Quilter’s Daily Deal,” a quilting deal that ranges from 30% to 95% off 365 days of the year. And my wife purchased a binding tool from there.
In 2008, the financial crisis wiped away the Doan family’s retirement savings. It was during that hardship that Jenny’s children Al and Sarah decided to set up their parents with a retirement plan of sorts. Kyncl says, “They took out a $36,000 loan and bought their mom a long-arm quilt machine so she could embrace her favorite hobby and make quilts for the local community. They then borrowed another $24,000 to buy an old auto showroom that was big enough to house it, which became Missouri Star Quilt Company.”
At the start, business was slow. After a few months, Al asked his mom if she’d be interested in filming quilting tutorials and uploading them to YouTube. “Sure,” said Jenny. “What’s a tutorial?” At that point, she had never even visited YouTube.
Today, she has turned her hobby into a multimillion-dollar business that’s revitalizing a small town in Missouri. Missouri Star now employs over 400 people in a town of 1,800. That makes it the largest employer in the county and the largest seller of quilting fabric in the world, fulfilling five thousand orders a day—nearly 2 million a year. Not bad for a bunch of streampunks.