Rooster Teeth: How to Create a Digital Media Network
By Joseph Kim
Rooster Teeth fascinates me, to put it simply. Founded in 2003 and based in Austin, Texas, Rooster Teeth Productions has blossomed from five friends, creating fun comedy shorts, into a digital powerhouse. The company has grown from creating Red vs. Blue, the longest running web series of all time, to 8 different online channels, producing a variety of content, from podcasts to feature films. And they’re continuing to expand their brand, establishing RTX, an annual, international convention running since 2012, and being bought by Fullscreen Media. And while having a euphemism as their moniker.
So, how has Rooster Teeth endured after 15 years? Well, in my opinion, I think Rooster Teeth succeeds by fleshing out two important concepts:
Truth . . .
Rooster Teeth is extremely open, on nearly every level of their company. Their company operations are frequently shown in their RT Life and Burnie Burns Vlog series, as well as interviews with third-party journalists, delving into the financial/corporate aspects of the business. Staffs’ honest thoughts and opinions are showcased in all of their content, such as in podcasts and “let’s plays”. The company isn’t shy to reveal their self-truth.
I’m aware that this might not be the case, that the personalities that appear on screen could be fabrications, or exaggerations of real people, playing for the camera. Yet, I think most people, when in front of company, present an elevated version of themselves. Everyone performs, but people have a sixth sense, detecting insincerity from miles away. Performance doesn’t equate to inauthenticity, but there is such thing as an inauthentic performance.
Founder Burnie Burns, in a Forbes interview, outlined the company’s core philosophy:
“… we only make content that we would want to see. We’re not trying to make content for some perceived audience or like what we think this is what people want to watch. We want to make these things, and we would want to see them, and I think as a result of that, it comes from a very genuine space. I think that our audience appreciates that voice.” (Forbes, 2016)
It’s the desire to be genuine, the desire to create freely, that attracts an audience. In this Internet-developed era, we often assume that people like to create a wall, a persona to hide behind, to recreate their image into something better. But I think people nowadays crave intimacy and transparency more than ever before. With information accessible at our fingertips, we’ve deepened our thirst for knowledge and our zero-tolerance for insincerity. A company like Rooster Teeth, who not only provides blunt entertainment but also delivers genuinely satisfying (and at times, heartwarming) content, is exactly what people want.
. . . and Identity
Rooster Teeth understands its identity really well. Their identity isn’t necessarily grounded in a working medium, such as animation or comedy, although those are favorites. Their identity seems to be rooted in camaraderie. The original founders formed Rooster Teeth to create content that they wanted to see, and that content is reflective of the original group: friendship. Nearly all of the company’s projects involve people or characters coming together to spend time with each other, discussing fun and ridiculous subjects, playing video games, and having an adventure. RTX even reinforces the internal fan community, creating lifelong friendships in the process. Regardless of whether this core identity is not purposeful (or correct), the company does accept its own identity.
People like to identify. Most of the time, audiences want to understand what they consume. So, any company that wants a dedicated audience needs to have a clear identity, in one way or another. People understand Rooster Teeth as a site where people hang out, talk about video games, laugh, etc. And this quality ensures a recognizable identity, one that is perceived and accepted by consumers and sponsors alike. And when people are able to remember and understand a brand, they’re more willing to receive it. that’s when true growth happens.
Now, Rooster Teeth isn’t the only company/group embracing these ideals. Content collectives like the Game Grumps, the Valleyfolk, and the Vlog Squad have, to varying degrees, succeeded in gaining an audience by embracing an innate truth, fleshing out their respective group identity, while endeavoring into various media. But Rooster Teeth is a company that has stood the test of time, competing not only against other online creators, but also against major TV networks/providers like HBO or Netflix. And as a fan, I hope they continue to evolve for the better.