A few months ago, my Aunt told me that she was getting my 15 year old cousin tickets to Playlist Live for her birthday. (Haven’t been? Me either. It’s a 3 day gathering for fans, creators, and supporters of online video.)
This sparked a conversation during which my Grandmother questioned why anyone would spend hours on their phone / computer watching short videos or attend a conference to meet creators, friends, and others.
Is this normal? At least one person asked.
I immediately sent my Grandmother a link to Josh’s Tenth Grade Tech Trends post with a note: “Never doubt teens, Grandma!”
I’m kidding, I didn’t do that.
I did corner my cousin this Thanksgiving to ask as many questions as I could about the YouTubers she loves and videos she watches.
Yesterday, I stumbled across MediaREDEF’s article: How YouTube MCNs are Conquering Hollywood.
While I found myself nodding in agreement, I also thought that it missed a part of the broader story that explains the demand-side of the equation…
It’s all about relationships.
The growth of YouTube, of MCNs, of stars on SnapChat and Vine, the long tail of content, of digital creators — it all comes back to relationships.
3 relationships make up the building blocks of online video.
- A unique relationship with technology
- A unique relationship with the audience
- A unique relationship with content
Critically, each of these relationships are both native and authentic — and they’re driving the growth and success of YouTube.
(1) Relationship with technology
My cousin and her friends have grown up with technology. They expect things to work. No lag. No bugs. Just work. Period.
This expectation stretches across hardware and software, platforms and apps. There’s little patience for a poor streaming experience, and sadly, despite plenty of cash, that’s exactly what it’s like attempting to watch most leading traditional TV channels and programing online today.
The UI is counter-intuitive. They force you to download a plugin (but not on Chrome!) and to authenticate with your cable subscription at ever step (and we all know most teens don’t foot this bill.) They play long ads at inconvenient times sending people one tab over until the content is back.
Online creators and channels leverage existing, open online platforms—technology that works across devices because that’s how it was built. Their work is on YouTube and Vine. It loads seamlessly across mobile devices (where, conveniently, it’s much harder for the viewer to jump a tab over and risk missing a 30 second clip in order to skip an ad.)
Online video creators also have countless tools and advantages over traditional media companies when it comes to analytics, etc. But at the most basic level, they built an advantage because their content just worked.
(2) Relationship with the audience
Most of the creators my cousin follows, subscribes to, and spends countless hours a week watching are also active on social media.
They don’t maintain formulaic accounts and treat their audience like fans. There is no wall or mystery between the audience and its stars like traditional Hollywood. Creators actively reach out to their fans.
They’re native to Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram and use them in to build direct, authentic relationships with their audience.
My cousin told me that many of the creators will ask fans to promote their work (“RT and I’ll release a new video!”) and in return often send DMs to fans, pose for selfies, follow fans accounts, etc.
These stars are hyper-transparent and accessible to their audience. In doing so, and in communicating directly with them, they build a level of trust, community, and support that is mind boggling to most folks.
Picture the craziness of any popular boy band throughout the decades (screaming fans, stalking out locations based on rumors of a public appearance) and extrapolate that to hundreds of stars at once—all who built this audience from their bedrooms and a consumer camera or smart phone.
(3) Relationship with content
This is all about the long tail. The internet gives creators worldwide scale, the power of cheap distribution, and the ability to rapidly iterate.
You can find thousands of articles scattered across the web that explain how and why teens leverage media and culture to craft their personalities, why they love identifying and defining themselves based on the books, movies, and music they love. Being a part of a group is a powerful thing.
When I was in high school I pulled pages out of ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated. I posted song lyrics to my AIM away message.
She has infinitely more material accessible at all times. She can find the perfect video for her mood or that fits the 30 seconds free between classes. She’s not limited by the walls of her high school or pages of a magazine.
Any video and any creator are accessible. The niche videos feel like they’re meant for her, the vloggers are speaking to her.
YouTubers take teens’ obsession with self-discovery and put it on steroids, giving them the power to explore and learn and connect like never before.
This deep relationship with the content allows viewers to form communities, to connect with the producers, videos, and fellow viewers.
The content doesn’t need to be everything for everyone. It just needs to be interesting for one person or one niche audience.
This relationship with content stretches beyond theme. Creators are free from studio constraints and traditional programming processes which means that they can develop relevant work quickly. It also means they can put up videos anytime they want, helping build a deeper relationship with more points of engagement with viewers.
This unique relationship with content has allowed different types of videos (bite size offerings that that wouldn’t likely succeed on traditional television or movies) gain traction and a passionate following. Short makeup tutorials, movie trailers, movie-trailer size / style movies and funny films, vlogs, music covers, gaming, the list could go on forever.
Despite billions of minutes of video consumed each month across the major YouTube MCN’s, we’re still in the very early stages of this transition.
As I explained to my Grandmother: online video is no longer about simply putting traditional television and film online. Viewers expect more.
Teens, the next generation of consumers, are growing up accustomed to this new entertainment reality. They expect technology to work, stars that are authentic and transparent, and content that fits their needs and desires.
And countless companies (from StageBloc to manage and understand a star’s audience, to District Lines the go-to source of merch) are capitalizing on this and helping artists grow their community and monetize their work.
The lines between digital content, television, and movies are quickly blurring and technology is deeply integrated at the core of this transition.
It’s a fun time to be a fan, viewer, creator, or entrepreneur.
And I’m crazily excited to see how my cousin and her generation continues to reimagine the future of entertainment as they grow.