UPDATE: (see new links at end of blog)
This is a headsup to our fellow creative souls out there, the ones that create online content, be it short films, web series, or whatever. In many cases the goal for artists who are making this kind of content is to have a video go VIRAL. The thought is, a viral video will get millions of hits, and if you are one of the lucky ones who have that video monetized in some way, eg. a partnered channel on YouTube or some sponsorship that pays you X amount per X amount of views, you can make bank and quit your day job.
Lately, I have noticed tons of “HOW TO” workshops popping up all over the place, at conventions or at some rented space, mostly hosted by people who have had some sort of success with viral videos or who work for sites that host videos that go viral. I have seen the price-tag for these workshops range anywhere from $50 to $500. They promise to show YOU how THEY did it and all YOU have to do is pay THEM and sit through their multi-hour program and follow the knowledge they impart. Then YOU can be a big internet video success just like THEM. The truth is, the odds of paying for one of these workshops and having the knowledge you gain from it lead you to Viral Video success are pathetic.
Even when video giants like YouTube decide they want to promote a video, there is no guarantee that it will actually go viral. There are special cases like Fred and others who had nonstop promotion early on for whatever reason, but knowing the reason and having it apply to your channel, video, or series is like trying to catch a fart in a windstorm.
Now, there are a few people out there who can actually give you sound advice. I sight the Fine Brothers as a shining example of purity in a shit-buried business. They have sat on tons of panels at conventions speaking on new media and how to become a success in the viral video market, but they have never charged a cent or run any “pay for” seminars/workshops to impart their knowledge to the would-be viral tycoon. The difference between them and the countless others who sit in a position of internet video sage is… they tell you flat out DON’T DO IT. And these guys have some of the most successful web series on the net. Their videos are hosted on various sponsored channels with various deals for making money on the videos. These guys have been in this game for years. Would you like to know the reason they’ve had such great success in the realm of internet video? Because they’ve spent over 5 years learning how to market there work and building up their fan-base. At least they are being upfront and honest when they sit in the teacher’s chair by telling the student that they actually can’t teach them anything. When they speak on panels they emphasize this point… with all the success, great or small, there is no real end game to big money and mainstream success from the web alone. The fact is, it is easier to get a sitcom on TV than it is to become one of the few people who have actually made it to the solid income goal line through internet video. And it’s only getting harder to have that kind of success now that all the major companies have changed the ways they feature material. YouTube and MySpace are perfect examples of this… look at how slathered in corporate advertisement those sites are now compared to 6 months ago, and how they have eliminated entire video categories in favor of advertising TV shows and Feature films.
The days of top-dollar pay (which was never really that top-dollar to begin with) for an internet series are gone. The only thing you can do is MAKE GOOD VIDEOS and hope people will like them so much they actually forward them to their friends and family who will in turn forward them to their friends and family and so on.
Let’s take the Retarded Policeman series as an example of a video series that went viral and try to figure out why it worked. The answer is still LUCK.
On Retarded Policeman, we happened to be graced with the brilliant, magic-on-screen, comic genius of a fellow named Josh “the Ponceman” Perry. Not a bad place to start. We also happened to put the videos on a channel (mediocrefilms) that already had 30,000 subscribers and was also already a partnered channel on YouTube at the time the first videos went live. Yes, the writing, for the most part, is top notch, and the creative people at the helm are all very good at what they do (the little toot of my own horn as being a major contibutor in this group acknowledged). These factors are all big pluses in getting eyeballs on the work. There are endless amounts of well produced videos out there with smart writing and amazing acting that far outshine anything you have ever seen on the web, but you might never find them because the exposure just insn’t there.
The bottom line is, there is nothing to dictate whether or not a video will hit. There is only luck. Luck plus basic blood, sweat, and tears… and in many cases, beers… or many cases of beers… I digress… it’s all luck, plus posting the videos on Myspace and Facebook and Twitter and all the other sites you can post your content to for exposure. There’s also emailing the videos to everyone under the sun that you know with an email address. And there’s finding out what websites with a high volume of loyal viewers are out there and which ones will like your work so much that they embed your videos on their site for their audiences to discover. That’s just plain old hard work and gumption in action. There is no industry secret you can learn by dropping a C-note into someone’s pocket and sitting through 3 to 5 hours of listening to them spew what, in the end, sounds a lot like common sense/knowledge and/or well polished bullshit.
Even with all these efforts properly deployed it doesn’t mean that you’ll get more than 10% of the viewership you have reached out to to actually click on the link that leads them to your video and, finally, physically watch the damn thing.
And what happens if your video does hit? Let’s say you truly are an ARTIST and you want your work to be seen by as many people as possible. Let’s say the internet is your chosen vehicle of delivering it to them… good for you. In this case the possible monetary reward that might accompany Viral Video success is just icing on the cake for you. And, if this is you, you are most likely already doing the basic things listed above to get your work out there.
However, if you are in the I want to make a viral video market purely for business reasons, to actually make a for-profit-business out of creating your own original content for the web and having that effort payoff in cold hard cash… well, in this case, you are just a bad business person.
Just throwing up a couple of links from Kevin Nalts, a popular YouTuber. He’s another guy, like the Fine Brothers, that tells it like it is.
You can also check out his FREE eBook How to Become Popular on YouTube Without Any Talent