This past week, I walked away from an opportunity to have our content on television, because the deal simply didn’t make sense. As a result, I was initially going to write about how the best deals are the ones you don’t make, referencing an acquisition offer I walked away from in April right before our company’s reach and financial metrics dramatically took off.
But as I return from YouTube’s Tune-In event in Los Angeles, I think a more fitting example and lesson is the deal that never took place with YouTube as part of their guaranteed revenue initiative when they guaranteed revenue in exchange for the exclusive right to sell ads against the programming.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed when we were overlooked, but it turned out well in the long run. YouTube was increasingly vertical whereas we were then horizontal in scope. We’d also not really invested as much in YouTube (relative to our other distribution partners). And, let’s be honest: we were not particularly big, with about 5 million monthly views (about 10% of our total reach) at the time.
But the fact that they didn’t even approach us about it forced me to ask myself some tough questions. In the end, that, along with other factors, led me to fine-tune our programming and adjust our distribution strategy and bet big on YouTube. The result today is a tenfold annual increase in views and subscribers, and a twentyfold increase in minutes of content watched,.
Had we obtained funding, we would have never found ourselves where we are today, which is a far healthier business with a fan base of millennial males (at the time, we had a 50-50 male/female split).
As with any program, some of the funded channels proved successful, many didn’t. Some of the companies used the experience (and funding) as springboards to move on to bigger and better things, many didn’t.
Those who got funded naturally welcomed it and benefited from it, but by and large, it was a short-term benefit (for some, it was a lifeline) but a distraction and mirage in the long run. Most of those channels fizzled within a year, but having become the crux of the producer’s focus, it drained resources from other areas that would be more sustainable in the long term with viewers.
By signalling that it was serious about paying content owners, YouTube recreated its image; advertisers took the site more seriously. That’s when we planted the seed that is now bearing fruit. That’s also when, I respectfully think, a sense of entitlement took over the content partners.
Listening to YouTube brass and partner executives at Tune-In, I found a few things startling.
1) The fact that YouTube goes to such great lengths to engage, guide and listen to content owners is commendable, given its utter dominance in the industry. YouTube’s public disposition suggests that they sincerely believe that without us, they would not be as successful (which very well may be true, but still…)
2) Content executives need to get over the belief that YouTube “owes” us something. Don’t get me wrong, content is king and without great content, YouTube would be a shell of itself. Many companies and MCNs are seeking to build their off-YouTube presence (as they should).
Yes, like any relationship, it takes two sides to make things work; but YouTube should be credited for the platform it has created, the audience it has nurtured and the scale it provides.
But while it’s normal to think that the grass is greener on the other side, before long, the critics will realize just how good we have it on YouTube. I am not saying YouTube is perfect, nothing is. But with an audience of 1 billion viewers, YouTube’s close enough.
Ultimately, like any ecosystem, it’s about demand and supply, and YouTube holds the trump card here. You can argue that YouTube is simply replacing the traditional gatekeepers in Hollywood, but it’s also the closest thing to an egalitarian tidal wave that levels the playing field between content creators, regardless of whether they hail from the Hollywood hills, a bedroom in Sacramento, or an office loft in Montreal.
YouTube is also slowly but surely blurring the line between the Web and television, to the point that we basically walked away from a contract that would have put our programming and brand on television, because the deal terms simply weren’t good enough.
In the end, the best deals are the ones you don’t make, but you only find that out in the long run.