Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why you're going to fail at Internet video

The above is Gary Vaynerchuk's keynote speech from the New Media Expo, wherein he lays out how his Wine Library TV online video show became perhaps the most successful and well known Web show going.

Here's Gary's recipe for success:
  • Production values don't matter, just the content.
  • Do a show about your biggest passion, and nothing else.
  • Promote your show 6-10 hours per day, 6 days per week, for at least 18 months and you MIGHT get popular.
  • Promote your show on every platform, every service, every network.
  • Hypersyndicate - Don't upload to one video site, upload to every site.
  • Answer EVERY e-mail.
  • Expose every avenue of contact. Publish your IM handles, your Twitter name, and your Skype number, etc..
  • Court every single fan, personally, for as long as you can.
  • Build your brand, not someone else's.
Having helped build a (very minor) Web franchise from the ground up, I agree with every single one of these tenets. And it just shows how few people will succeed in Web video (or Web content in general). Vaynerchuck basically worked a 50 hour uncompensated workweek for a year and half to get to decent traffic, and another two and a half years at the same pace to get where he is now. He could get away with that because he was using video as a loss leader for his multimillion-dollar liquor sales business, from which he could draw income. Vaynerchuk had a unique monetization model, which the only way you can remotely make the argument that he got a return on his time investment.

Now, there are ways to hedge out some of what Vaynerchuk did with some rather pricey outsourcing services, but that still does not fundamentally change the math that Web video will almost never be a serious fiscal endeavor for anyone. The return on your time is hideously low. It's is the ultimate low margin business and--what's worse--it pays out slow. The question for most of us is earn a little money fast or a lot of money slowly. Video is the worst of both, offering very little money over a very long time. Standard ad models just make it not worthwhile.

And all that is assuming you've got your hands on a passionate subject matter expert who can convey attractive Web video content covering a subject that people care about in sufficient numbers that you can profitably monetize it. Trust me, those people don't grow on trees, and those subject areas are already being hotly contested in text, and video is coming up on it fast. I'm still writing Geek Trivia after leaving CNet because they despaired of finding someone who could write what I write the way I write it. It's not high art, but my fans like it and there's sponsorship behind it, so they made an exception and pay me to keep doing it. And believe me, back when I was on the CNet payroll, I looked for people who could blog the way I do (so I could take a break after almost seven years writing the column) and couldn't find them. Talent is scarce, and it doesn't scale. Blogging already has this problem, and video is going to have it worse.

But Web video is getting bigger every year, right? Experts are projecting 25 percent year over year growth in online video advertising over the next five years. Video consumption online may increase by 5 percent a month, according to some numbers I've seen, for the same period. What's going to give?

The ad numbers, probably. By this point, everyone was supposed to be dumping billions into social network advertising, and it just never materialized to the degree everyone expected at the height of the 2006 MySpace/Facebook boom. (Insider hint: Media companies are really good at publicizing all the predictions that benefit them, and few to none of those that don't. Never believe the self-referencing "people are going to give us money" hype.) Online video will likely have the same scaled-down reality come this time next year.

So where does that leave the content producers? Mostly, you better love what you do, because the odds of you getting paid anything approaching a fair wage for your work are pretty astronomical. It's becoming more obvious on the blogging front that your blog better be a labor of love, because even professional bloggers don't make much money at actual blogging and the odds of you outplaying a pro are pretty unlikely. Video will follow the same track.

More to the point, once the big boys from old media figure out exactly how the monetization model is going to work, they'll flood the available market with known brands and suck up the few available dollars for themselves. We all fondly revere the guy at the indie magazine who refuses to join the corporate machine, but he gets paid like a guy who refuses to join the corporate machine. Indie blogs and indie video shows will always exist, but the democritization of opportunity--the big guys no longer own the means of distribution, unlike the printing press and broadcast tower days--mean the artificially high margins that media used to enjoy are over, and the value associated with producing these media have declined.

Put simply, there ain't much money in online content. Plan your career accordingly.


  1. So how does this bode for your VuPal video scripting gig? Am I missing it, or will there be a follow-up explaining how handling web video production en masse ala VuPal does have a chance at turning a profit?

    Just curious!

  2. Come now, Jay: have some faith in the power of "viral videos". Er, so are fridays still on the weekly agenda? ;)

    At least we're having fun in this uphill battle!