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VideoInk: End of Year

Founder Jocelyn Johnson Editor-in-chief Sahil Patel Contributors Michael Varrati Liz Miller Designer Karen Almonte

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VideoInk: End of Year

2013 is coming to a close, and as is the case with every publication making its bread on the internet, it’s time we roll out our look-back at the year that was in online video. Join us over the next week-and-a-half as we rank the highlights, the lowlights, and everything in-between that was of interest in our industry over the past 12 months. Awards will be handed out. Winners will be crowned. A thing or two might be predicted for 2014 (of course, we can’t predict that for sure). But more than anything else, we will raise a toast to 2013 — the biggest year in online video, that is, until next year. I’m about to make a massive understatement: A lot of things happened in the online video industry in 2013. In fact, from my own perspective, sometimes it felt like too many things were happening, making it hard for one man to keep track of it all. But by its very nature, that’s a good thing. For an industry that wants to both legitimize itself against the twin pillars of film and television, and strike out on its own as a new medium for interactive storytelling, the busier we all are, the less likely it is that we’re being ignored. And in 2013, you could not ignore online video. From landmark deals to quality original content to innovations that may change how we view and interact with content for years to come, there were a lot of interesting things that made our eyes and ears perk up. Here are five of those interesting stories and trends, which helped shaped 2013 as a year of significant change and movement for the online video industry. The hope is that it’s only a sign of things to come. VideoInk: End of Year

THE MUSIC INDUSTRY & YOUTUBE: THE ULTIMATE FRENEMIES Could there be any other? Yes, Netf lix had a big year. But the relationship between the music industry and those who produce content on YouTube has never been more complicated, and more ripe for analysis. You’ve heard a lot about this from us throughout the year. But to recap: Music is big on the world’s biggest site, and as a result has created a lot of issues for both rights-holders and content creators on YouTube. It’s a problem that doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon, as evidenced by the ongoing furor surrounding YouTube’s Content ID tool and its f lagging of unlicensed (or improperly licensed) music across the site. In 2013, YouTube also launched the first-ever YouTube Music Awards, which aimed to honor the top music creators and channels on the site, from mainstream artists like Eminem and Lady Gaga to YouTubers like Lindsey Stirling and DeStorm. As is the case with anything YouTube does, there was a lot of opinion surrounding the award show, from the way it was produced to who YouTube chose to recognize. I defended the show, and YouTube’s decision to make it weird and different. But regardless of which side you fall on in that debate, you can’t deny it, the show was interesting. What’s going on with YouTube and the music industry, in general, is very interesting.

ONLINE VIDEO BECOMESMORE LIKE T V There are a lot of people who believe that online video (meaning those who create programming for the web) needs to look more like TV before it’s taken seriously. And while many would argue against that notion, and have actively been creating content formats that can’t be done on TV, you have to at least understand where that idea is coming from. Many still think big-name brands won’t put serious money behind online video until it shares the premium nature of TV. Which is why it’s interesting that the two players who most actively worked toward creating TV content for the web, aren’t ad-supported. Netf lix, beginning with “House of Cards” and through its venture into documentary and stand-up comedy films, is making film and TV content, but for a non-linear platform. Similarly, Amazon has also ventured into original programming, with big Hollywood talent attached, as it rolls out an array of comedy, drama, and kids programming. Again, neither run pre-rolls (though if Netf lix did, that might become the most expensive piece of real-estate anywhere). Others who do monetize from ads have also pushed into TV-like original programming. Crackle continues to produce original content for its ad-supported streaming network, with some shows like “Chosen” and “Aim High” standing high in terms of quality. Hulu has been signing co-production deals with the likes of the BBC to bring “original shows” to US audiences. On YouTube, Freddie Wong and Matt Arnold pushed out the second season of “Video Game High School” and AwesomenessTV launched “Side Effects,” both of which could easily be available on a kids network on TV. 5

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CONSOLIDATION, IT’S HAPPENING, GET USED TO IT Online video has long been referred to as a Wild West — and it is. But in 2013, we saw clear signs of the industry beginning to mature. Just look at the number of acquisitions in the space:

April: Teen YouTube network AwesomenessTV is acquired by Dream Works Animation for its ability to reach young viewers where film and TV can’t — while they’re on the go.

May: Discovery Digital Networks (formerly Revision3), which itself was bought by Discovery in 2012, seals a long-standing partnership with Phil DeFranco by buying DeFranco Creative and the properties owned by the company.

August: goes to AOL for more than $400 million, merging the resources and capabilities of two of the top video content and video ad providers on the web.

August – September: Maker Studios buys Blip, primarily to get access to Blip’s proprietary video player technology and its sales team. What happens next? Jason Krebs takes the helm at Maker’s sales department, and the network begins rolling out owned-and-operated websites and apps for its premium content partners. For an ecosystem that was challenged to find a revenue stream outside of YouTube, Maker is now clearing that hurdle. December: News video startup Newsy is bought by one of the oldest and biggest names in news and media, E.W. Scripps. And those are just the acquisitions. It doesn’t include the investments made by traditional media companies into the new-media space, ranging from the multiple ways Bertelsmann gave money to fashion YouTube network StyleHaul, to the money Chernin Group and Comcast gave to Fullscreen. Hell, one of the biggest stories of 2013 was about an acquisition that never happened.

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AOL JOINS THE PART Y When AOL bought, its intentions were clear: The site was coming for the Google/YouTube behemoth in online video. And it’s hard to argue that so far the company hasn’t succeeded. AOL as a newly merged video-ad property surpassed Google in September, and hasn’t looked back since. Additionally, AOL is now comfortably in the top five for comScore’s monthly video content properties, and often sits at number two behind Google/YouTube. That’s not the only reason for AOL’s appearance on this list, though. As mentioned above, the company launched the industry’s first Programmatic Upfront, and as weird as that event sometimes was, it indicated AOL knew where the world was headed, and wanted to be out ahead of it. Programmatic video advertising it’s the new big thing ProgrammBut looking beyond the advertising front, AOL struck an important deal with ESPN to bring the network’s extensive library of sports news clips and highlights to the AOL On Network. Why was it important? Not only did the deal give AOL one of the most expensive and sought-after content brands in the world, but it allowed the company to use ESPN content to bring audiences to relevant original fare like “My Ink.” For a while now, the online video industry has said the automated buying and selling of video advertising is the future. We’re not there yet, but 2013 saw a lot of developments on this front. In September, AdWeek reported that Hulu and ABC were venturing into the programmatic space, after years selling video ad inventory directly. Later that same month, AOL hosted the first ever “Programmatic Upfront,” and announced multiple deals with agencies like Havas Media, Horizon Media, and Magna Global, with additional buyers like Digitas and Razorfish “considering” making upfront investments. Or maybe better yet, just talk to any major video ad tech player in the space — from, to BrightRoll, LiveRail, SpotXchange, and TubeMogul, all are championing programmatic as the future of video advertising. So why wouldn’t it be?


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Strompolos, in an email interview, promised “We have some big plans for 2014 that we’re really excited about.” But its 2013 wasn’t too shabby. One development that showed foresight for where YouTube companies are going was Fullscreen’s Creator Platform, which launched this summer “to help our talent build their audience, collaborate with each other, and grow their earnings,” said Strompolos.


hen, in July 2013, Chernin Group, Comcast, and WPP invested a reported $30 million in multi-channel network Fullscreen, it wasn’t just a sign of traditional media’s interest in YouTube — Fullscreen indicated its goal of becoming a “global media company.” But what’s actually resulted is the redefinition of a media company in the YouTube space — and it’s why we’ve chosen Fullscreen as the MCN of 2013. In 2013, there were few better barometers of where things are going for YouTube-based businesses than Fullscreen. The company, founded in 2011 and headed up by CEO George Strompolos (who previously worked directly with creators as a YouTube exec),

grew its network of channels, developed a number of scalable resources to help YouTubers monetize content, and innovated in other areas — leaving it well-prepped to take on 2014 and continue to define the current direction of the space.

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The Creator Platform is what allows Fullscreen to service its partner channels — all 15,000 of them. When asked if Fullscreen would ever be forced to cap the number of partners it signed up, Strompolos replied “[It] has always been about empowering creators on a global scale, and the infrastructure we’ve built to support them is second-to-none. While there is technically no cap on the number of channels we can support, we like to work with creators who are serious about growing with us.”


trompolos emphasized the innovation angle — when asked about the Collective and Maker Studios recently acquiring their own platforms (Metacafe and Blip, respectively), he said “It will be interesting to see how these companies make use of their acquisitions over time. Rather than try to recreate what YouTube already does, I think it’s important to innovate and give users something different.”

cians (including Fullscreen partners), cover videos are a major part of their inventory.

One example of that: The Creator Platform was upgraded with a social component earlier this month, allowing partners to friend, comment, and network with other Fullscreen creators — and even connect with creators based on similarity of audience.

The Fullscreen/NMPA suit was an early milestone in this fall’s ongoing drama between content creators, major corporations, and the YouTube technology that seeks to preserve relationships and avoid lawsuits between the two.

Major brands took notice of this, another way in which Fullscreen was an industry leader. At Vidcon 2013, the company actively worked to directly connect brands with YouTubers, providing one-on-one attention that not only helped merge the gap between advertisers and the digital space, but gave it a human angle.

For Fullscreen, it’s a problem that has not yet been resolved, as the NMPA lawsuit is still pending, but Strompolos was positive about the current situation: “We are in productive talks with the NMPA and expect to resolve things in the new year.”

This was followed up, in October, by Fullscreen officially launching a boutique consultancy service, one it had been offering companies for the last two years. Channel+’s clients, which initially included NBCUniversal, GE, and Cartoon Network, get access to features including (on the tech side) a dashboard tracking, measuring, and analyzing their YouTube presence, and (on the human side) individual attention from Fullscreen employees, to help brands better optimize their content.

Asked what his proudest moment of 2013 was, Strompolos pointed to VidCon 2013: “Our Summer Upload concert drew a crowd of thousands to see incredible Fullscreen talent like Lindsey Stirling, Tyler Ward, Lohanthony, Max Schneider, Chachi, and the World of Dance Crew. In addition to the concert, our booth was popping and we also held a private event to introduce some brand advertisers to the vibrant world of online video.”

Another feature included in Channel+ was TotalID, a system allowing brands to monitor any copyrighted material on YouTube that they laid claim to. Which is a bit ironic, as Fullscreen did have to address a lawsuit this fall from the National Music Publishers’ Association over unlicensed cover videos.

Between the music industry and the recent Content ID issues that have taken down or stripped revenue from thousands of channels, copyright issues have become a major problem for all companies in the space — especially given that for many YouTube musi-

“I was a proud CEO that day.”


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VideoInk: End of Year

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n 2011, Conde Nast, the century-old publisher known for print brands like GQ, Glamour, The New Yorker, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, decided to make a big investment in video. So it launched Conde Nast Entertainment, a video production and programming division tasked with developing new projects for film, television, and digital. But it wasn’t until this year that video truly arrived at CNE, which debuted original programming channels for GQ and Glamour in March, and then expanded its digital video network throughout 2013 to include channels for Style, Wired, Vogue, Teen Vogue, and Vanity Fair. Across those seven channels, CNE rolled out 50 original series and over 1,000 pieces of content, growing a network that combined for 22 million views in 2012 to over 500 million to date in 2013. As promised when CNE was formed, Conde Nast’s investment in video has indeed been huge. And if you need even more evidence of that, just look at how CNE operates inside its parent company, says Fred Santarpia, CNE’s EVP and chief digital officer, who was hired in 2012 after spending multiple years at VEVO as part of the music company’s founding executive team. “Our goal is to try and make video a skill-set that is as endemic to Conde Nast as print is,” he says. This means having an organization that is capable of doing it all, from product and engineering to video operations and business development. It’s out of this structure that CNE was able to build its own video player, its own Roku app, and sign syndication deals with the likes of AOL, Dailymotion, Twitter, and Yahoo. It’s this structure, according to Santarpia, that helped CNE to a banner launch year and halfa-billion views for its original content. When thinking of CNE’s digital video network, it’s important that you don’t view it as a singular entity. Outside of the company’s Roku app, there isn’t a central location where all of the network’s content is available. If you want to watch something from GQ, you can go to the magazine’s website, or its YouTube channel, or find the content on the AOL On Network, Yahoo Screen, and Dailymotion. In some cases, you can even watch video on the digital editions of new issues on tablets. YouTube is — unsurprisingly — CNE’s biggest syndication partner, though Santarpia declines to disclose how big of a share the site accounts for. Instead, he points to how aggressive CNE has been in making its content available across multiple online video outlets, including its owned-and-operated platforms, which he says are responsible for a significant share of viewing. As the mantra goes in online video, CNE wants to be available everywhere and at anytime. “Our brands are iconic household names, but we have not been known for video programming,” says Santarpia. “For us to scale, we really needed to get out there and let people know that we are now in the business of creating daily programming for each of these brands.”

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Synopsis: “Casualties of the Gridiron” documents the journey of retired NFL players who battle brain trauma, crippling pain, and drug addiction. With the support of one another and a dedicated team of medical professionals, these retired athletes struggle to heal themselves and find a better life. Total views since series launch: 2,056,884

Synopsis: Caitlin Brodnick, a 28-year-old comedian living in NYC with her husband, shares her life-changing decision to have a preventative double mastectomy after learning she’s BRCA1-positive. In Glamour’s docu-series, watch as Caitlin faces this journey with humor, honesty, and empowering determination. Total views since series launch: 5,608,184

Synopsis: “The Window” takes you on a tour of the world’s most extraordinary construction projects, factories, labs, and landmarks — seen through the eyes of the people who work there. Total views since series launch: 14,432,762

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The strategy is part of an “always-on mentality” that Santarpia claims is top of mind at CNE. “I want people to come back every day and see new content there,” he says. “From an awareness perspective, it’s important for us to be part of as many conversations as possible. I think it increases our relevance.”

Cancer,” a documentary for Glamour that followed a young woman as she underwent an elective double mastectomy. If 2013 was a landmark year for Conde Nast — and it was — what does that mean for 2014? CNE has no intentions of taking the foot off the pedal. A “series of channels” are scheduled to launch very early in Q1, though Santarpia declined to specify which ones.

When CNE launched channels for GQ and Glamour in the spring, they consisted of shows like GlamBut deeper than that, like any other content provider, CNE our’s “Elevator Makeover” and GQ’s “10 Essentials” has been assessing its performance in 2013, and is ready to iterate for 2014. — short-form and Sometimes people forget that our web properties service oriented. When I ask him to identify As the network have over 30 million monthly unique visitors,” he which channels performed expanded, the focus says. “It’s a very substantial off-YouTube presence, the best in 2013, Santarpia remained on this type and on top of that, we’re syndicating content into our picks Glamour, Wired, and of content, which Teen Vogue. To a certain exis designed to drive digital editions, which reach many more millions. tent, you can see why: Beauty/ views and shares. fashion and tech are popular But as CNE established its footing within the online video landscape, its other programming ambition began to surface. CNE refers to this as its “tentpole programming” — content that has a more sophisticated edge, and as a result, is longer than the snack-sized bits the organization originally rolled out with.

categories on the web. “You can certainly say that they have an endemic demo in terms of people who consume video content at a great clip,” says Santarpia. “But I would also say our programming for those channels was most focused out of the gate. For 2014, we are making sure that every show we create for each of our channels fits certain defined editorial filters.”

No series exemplifies this half of CNE’s programming strategy more than “Casualties of the Gridiron,” a documentary series on GQ that takes an in-depth look at the after-effects of head injuries at the highest levels of football.

That’s not all. “The web is an interactive experience,” says Santarpia. “For some of our channels, I think the experience has been a bit too linear, and it’s on us to improve that. Our focus for 2014 is to add more of those elements that draw the viewer in.” And it goes beyond tried-andtrue measures like commenting and social sharing. “It’s figuring out how to engage and invest the user in the programming we’re creating — how to directly involve them in the feedback-loop for the type of shows we create.”

“When you think of GQ, you think of smart guys looking sharp,” says Santarpia. “But if you pick up any copy of GQ, you’re also likely to see a 10,000-word feature on a topic that’s really meaningful to the modern, sophisticated male reader. ‘Casualties’ is our video equivalent of that.”

Expect CNE to experiment in a lot of different ways. For example, now that it’s available on Roku, CNE is beginning to think about how content should be formatted to fit the screen it’s being distributed to. “You might see different versions of the same show on different platforms. A series like ‘Codefellas’ from Wired could have a shortform version for the web, but a longer version for those watching it on a connected-TV device.”

Going forward, Santarpia says CNE wants to focus on having a healthy mix of the bite-sized, “always-on” content that its viewers are becoming accustomed to, and the “big idea” shows represented by “Casualties of the Gridiron” and “Screw You

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Overall, though, it all circles back to what CNE has been focused on since its inception. “I would like our video product to be held to the same high premium standard as our print product is,” says Santarpia. In the end, everything Conde Nast Entertainment does is a function of reaching that end goal, and why the organization is our Publisher of the Year.


2013 was a remarkable year for those looking to watch quality programming. While the television industry had its fair share of breakout hits and critically acclaimed shows, online video was no stranger to good storytelling, either. From top to bottom, there was no shortage of great stuff to watch across platforms like Netf lix, Hulu, and YouTube. You’ve already seen which short-form programs we considered to be at the top of the online video game in 2013. It’s only fair that we extend the same courtesy to those ambitious and talented enough to create long-form programs for digital platforms.


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The success of YouTube creators online usually comes down to two factors — targeting specific niches, and building shows on strong personalities. So to celebrate our favorite YouTubers, producers, and food-makers, we’ve broken them down by category. beauty/fashion ingrid nilsen missglamorazzi

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he lights are dim and almost everyone has left for the holidays at the Rocket Jump studio in Burbank, California. Seated behind dual computer monitors, his metal-rimmed glasses ref lecting soft electronic light, Freddie Wong renders what looks like a computer-generated explosion. On the second f loor of an industrial warehouse, the studio around him is like the world’s most elaborate clubhouse. The biggest TV I’ve ever seen sits atop an entertainment center decked out with too many game consoles to count. Each desk in the studio supports two monitors and most are lined with toys, baubles, and novelty mugs. A Lego “Lord of The Rings” set is proudly on display next to a bookcase that has just as many books as it does tokens of the pop culture of today and years past. This is the headquarters for Rocket Jump, Wong’s co-owned production studio — and from the looks of the sleeping bags draped over sofas and arm chairs, his home as well.

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“People sit around for Netf lix and people sit around for Hulu. There’s a lot of storytelling possibilities that TV-length content gives you,” Wong says. He specifically mentions season two’s emphasis on multiple character arcs. It’s a departure from season one’s more linear narrative, which Wong says was required given the season’s 10-minute per episode runtime.

When I tell Liam Collins, head of YouTube Space LA, that we’re naming Wong the Creator of the Year, he tells me the title is “well deserved.” I ask him to elaborate and unsurprisingly he chooses to highlight Wong’s early adoption of YouTube Space LA, Google’s 41,000 square foot digital video production studio. “Freddie was one of the first residents we had who worked in the space,” Collins says. Wong and his co-creators were given free run of the space while filming season two of their web series “Video Game High School,” a young adult-skewed show about a fictional academy where men and women game competitively for fame and fortune.

Speaking with Wong in the Burbank studio, he seems fixated on the length of modern digital content. But to be fair, almost everyone I talk to has TV-length web video on their minds these days. When asked about Wong, Collins is quick to mention the creator’s talents when it comes to developing a complex story for the web. “He’s a great storyteller,” he says. Collins switches gears and begins explaining YouTube’s focus for next year. “One thing you’re going to see us do next year is focusing more on storytelling and how creators can think about that in new and different ways.” When I ask Collins if evolved storytelling correlates to longer content, he is quick to explain that storytelling, “as YouTubers do it,” is f luid and can take many forms.

Season two of the series appeared on YouTube and the Rocket Jump website, where a 48 frames per second version streamed for free. Speaking with Wong, he tells me that each one of the six episodes garnered around 3 million views on YouTube and another 1.5 million on Rocket Jump. Season two of “Video Game High School,” which premiered in July and ran through August, was a revolutionary series for several reasons. Directed by Matthew Arnold and Wong, the second season consisted of six 30- to 45-minute episodes. That’s TVlength content on the web — a runtime that would have seemed outlandish a few years ago. But for Rocket Jump, that half hour was paramount.

But what everyone seems to be dancing around is how primarily TV-based advertisers will react. What is the secret recipe to bringing TV ad bucks to the digital space? Alex Angeledes, chief revenue officer at Collective Digital Studios, believes that content like the second season of “Video Game High School” is imperative to making traditional advertisers feel comfortable. Speaking about the second season, Angeledes says brands will be particularly interested in a metric like completion rates.

“One thing that we noticed was that the response to the first season was that people wanted the episodes to be longer,” Wong says, seated in an editing bay. He’s barefoot and he looks tired. A sleeping bag sits folded beside me on an overstuffed leather couch. As the last episode of the first season of “Video Game High School” aired, Rocket Jump saw that even though it was around 20 minutes long, it was the most watched and most liked episode in the season. The studio pushed the boundaries of web video length and the result was convincing enough to build season two out in a longer format.

“I think that bodes very well for advertisers looking at it and saying, ‘This is something I can identify with’,” he says. With each episode running for 30 minutes or longer, season two of “Video Game High School” was


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able to support mid-roll ads, which most advertisers are familiar with given that it’s most similar to the TV model. Angeledes explains that, per episode, season two of “Video Game High School” performed better than season one in terms of audience size. “That to me is a strong, positive foreboding to the shift of TV dollars coming over,” he says. Long-form content, as viewed by Angeledes, is arguably a lock for ferrying over TV ad dollars, but for Wong, half-hour shows present a greater opportunity to create artistically-driven content that rivals TV shows in quality. I explain to Wong that the first time I saw “Video Game High School,” I had an overwhelming feeling that I was watching the future of web shows. Here was a show that would look at home on any cable network. It was something that few if any web series have achieved to date. “To be fair, I don’t

think a lot of people are trying to do that, at least on the YouTube side,” Wong says. “On YouTube, we were looking around for other web series that did television format. There are some, but, for the most part, they really all kind of fall into the 10-minute, 15-minute type of mentality.” As Wong explains, the lack of long-form content on YouTube is a symptom of the platform’s overall strategy. “What YouTube caters to is not necessarily people who are interested in long-form content,” Wong says, then breaks down his vision of the three-tiered YouTube content structure. First there is tier one, which Wong describes as “content that pretty much costs nothing to make,” or user-generated content. Then there is tier two: Partner content. According to Wong, partner content costs money to make. He specifically cites the visual FX shorts Rocket Jump produces several times a month. “I define partner content as something that is made with monetization in mind and something that can be supported by YouTube’s ad infrastructure.”


ier three content, unlike tiers one and two, is highly produced. It is content like VEVO music videos and movie trailers. “It’s stuff that is not supportable under the current advertising model on YouTube,” says Wong. “You need to go elsewhere to finance it and you won’t necessarily make your money back by just putting it on YouTube.” Wong explains that tier two is where most creators feel comfortable and where YouTube offers a sustainable monetization model. “I think it’s a whole new form of entertainment and younger generations are latching on to it,” Wong says. “For us, our goal has always been to

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march on toward that type three content. That’s what we’ve always geared ourselves to do.” As Wong sees it, most creators are comfortable making tier two content because it makes the most sense financially based on YouTube’s ad system. “From that perspective I can totally understand,” says Wong. He uses Howard Stern as an example, saying that being a shock jock is an incredibly difficult thing to be good at. Anyone can talk into a mic, but how many of us can engage and entertain consistently? The same applies to tier-two vloggers. “He’s found his form of entertainment, it works well for him, and it’s just as legitimate as anything else. But for us, we’ve always wanted to do series and feature-length films and explore what you can do online,” Wong says.

shows and with that type of content

With tier three content being unsustainable on YouTube, where does that leave Rocket Jump and its vision for highly-produced, TV-quality content? “We have no choice,” Wong says. “We can’t make the kind of content we want to make and have it live and be supported on YouTube. It’s just impossible.” Wong explains that Rocket Jump’s forthcoming shift to off-YouTube support isn’t something he is necessarily happy about. “We’re a little bummed, but frankly I don’t see YouTube making any effort to support that type of content.” YouTube, in Wong’s eyes, doesn’t necessarily have anything to gain from supporting long form content. “It confuses me because on one hand I can see where YouTube has no incentive to create that stuff from a shareholders perspective. But on the other hand, I’m baff led by the fact that at the same time, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on creator spaces and partner channels. I feel like they want to do something in that direction to support the evolution of content, but at the same time I don’t think they quite know what that is.” Wong is incredibly transparent in expressing Rocket Jump’s push away from YouTube. He explains: “The fact is that at this point in time, it is not possible for us to subsist solely off of YouTube. I think YouTube is a platform that works well for type one and type two content. For type three content, I think it works well as essentially a marketing vehicle. So yes, we are exploring other methods of distribution. We can’t not explore other methods.”


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Wong’s career has largely been defined by his presence on YouTube. In many ways, his decision to look beyond YouTube as a support model and distribution structure speaks volumes about his relationship with the platform. In short: Wong and Rocket Jump have outgrown YouTube.

a lot bigger forces at play that we don’t have much inf luence on, but we have to be f lexible.” For now, as traditional ad dollars become digital ad dollars, Wong tells me Rocket Jump’s immediate goal is to create the necessary infrastructure to support multiple large scale productions internally. “For us, the big goal is to say ‘Here’s everything we have and we want to be able to do more with it and bring people in and grow as an organization.’ That’s the big goal and what we’re focused on for 2014.”.

During our interview, he pulls out his phone and begins doing rough calculations on how many views it would take to recoup the expenses for season two of “Video Game High School.” Generating revenue solely through YouTube CPM, Rocket Jump would break even if the season was watched roughly 600 million times. “We’re talking buku views here,” Wong says.

By the time we finish our interview, Rocket Jump is cleared out. A few employees drift in and out of rooms, but most seem to have left long ago to enjoy their Holiday off time. It’s the end of the day and I expect Wong to walk out with me, but instead he sits back down at his desk and, without missing a beat, starts working on that CGI explosion. I ask him what his holiday plans are. “I’m going to visit family for Christmas,” he says. “Then I’m coming back the next day to work more.” He laughs out loud at this. As I walk out, Wong’s shoulders are angled down, his neck craned closer to the monitor. He presses a button on his keyboard and the ref lection of his screen turns his glasses into a maelstrom of fire and smoke. I’ve got a good feeling about 2014.

The plan for Rocket Jump in a post-YouTube landscape is slightly up in the air. “On one hand, there is a lot of stuff that is out of our hands,” Wong says. “When you deal with a corporation online now you are not engaging with them on a media budget level, you are dealing with them on a digital marketing level.” Most brands allocate a certain amount for digital marketing, which ends up being a number significantly lower than that what goes to traditional media. This, of course, is an issue for Rocket Jump and Wong who are creating content worthy of a TV budget but receiving digital-level financial support for it. “I think that money from traditional marketing will percolate out into other avenues soon here because what’s the point of buying all of this television ad time if no one is around to watch it?” says Wong. “For us, it’s about trying to capture and engage an audience. It’s about trying to find that audience and make stuff for them. Those are the two things in our control. To engage and to create: That’s what we understand and are comfortable doing. I think the world’s going to shift under our feet and there are


VideoInk: End of Year

2013 through the lens of streaming video was largely dominated by Netflix’s big two: “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black.” As both shows released to critical acclaim, short-form web shows took a back seat, at least in media coverage, to multi-million dollar productions put on by the likes of Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix. But that doesn’t mean that 2013’s web series weren’t of note. In fact, this year has been unparalleled in terms of quality web shows. We’ve seen some amazing series released digitally this year, which is why slimming down this list was tough. Rest assured though, the five web series represented below are the cream of the crop. These are the shows that pushed the digital medium and silenced web video naysayers worldwide. So dive in and check out the top short-form web series of 2013 below.

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Put out by Yahoo and produced by Jack Black’s Electric Dynamite, “Ghost Ghirls” was a genuinely absurd and brilliant ride. From the show’s hapless ghost hunting heroines to it’s subversive take on crime procedurals, “Ghost Ghirls” showed us what could be done when very funny people were given free reign on a digital platform.

Branded content, no matter how expertly produced, is often cringe-inducing in its tone deaf approach to how often or aggressively a product or service appears within it. A recent “Transformers” film comes to mind in which a Mountain Dew machine openly transforms into a robot and begins fighting a lesser cola bot. Like I said, cringe-inducing. “The Power Inside” is incredible because Intel and Toshiba — the sponsors of the series — took such a hands off approach to the series. Not to mention, with financial backing from tech giants like Toshiba and Intel, “The Power Inside” is incredibly shot, acted, and written.

As football season rages on and the hits become bigger, series like “Casualties of the Gridiron” remind us of the toll that professional athletes pay for our entertainment. Put on by GQ, the series examines life post-NFL and the agony that many ex-footballers live with as a result of concussions and injuries sustained on field. “Casualties of the Gridiron” isn’t fun to watch, but that doesn’t make it any less important. ruly encompassing the indie nature of online video, “Squaresville” has become a genuine cult phenomenon online. The show, created by Matt Enlow, follows two suburban teens as they navigate the rocky landscape that is being an awkward youth. Season two has been no less excellent as the saga of Zelda and Esther continues in all if its off-kilter glory. “Olive Us” is a beautifully filmed series about the Blair family who consist of parents Ben and Gabrielle and kids Ralph, Maude, Olive, Oscar, Betty, and Flora June. The series, which is shot by film production company Tiger in a Jar, follows the Blair family as they attempt to live healthy, happy, and sustainable lives. The official “Olive Us” bio reads: “Our family relationships aren’t perfect, but we hope by modeling positive examples in the videos that it will help us practice better relationships in real life.” 25

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Crowdfunding Will Change as Platforms Adopt ‘Felicia Day Model’


ver the last few years, crowdfunding has been a hot route for aspiring creators, entrepreneurs, and established filmmakers alike, generating over $5.1B in funds in 2013 across various platforms worldwide — up from $1.5B in 2011 according to Statista. This year alone, we saw big celebrity-driven campaigns like Rob Thomas’ Kickstarter to bring back “Veronica Mars” ($5.7M) as a movie, Zach Braff ’s “Wish I Were Here” Kickstarter ($3.1M), and James Franco’s Indiegogo project “Palo Alto Stories” ($300K). YouTubers like Frederator (“Bee & Puppycat”: $872K), Freddie Wong (“VGHS” season two: $808K), My Damn Channel (“Love Me Cat“: $20K), and 5-Second Films took to the various platforms as YouTube’s program for funding original content halted and criticisms of the economics on YouTube caught a f lurry of negative attention. And while crowdfunding certainly isn’t going to “die” in 2014, I give you two, yes, two predictions about how audiences will financially drive content creation in 2014.

Prediction One: Crowdfunding, the way we know it,

dividual creators — most notably The Young Turks, was designed to bring creators an additional revenue stream in addition to the video portal’s staple ad business.

Let’s first define it: The “Felicia Day Model”: n. A direct-pay financing model, using PayPal or other pay-to-view mechanics, to fund content creation in a sustainable, ongoing, and longer term way by inviting fans, followers, and supporters to voluntarily contribute. This approach is named after Felicia Day, who employed this strategy in 2007-2008 to fund the first season of the now wildly successful franchise, “The Guild”, using a PayPal donation button.

Overall, the program has become an afterthought since the initial rollout (though I think it’s likely to gain a second wave of momentum in 2014).

is going to shift to a new, more sustainable business model in the new year. This will spark a new trend, one I’d like to call the “Felicia Day Model.”

Nevertheless, YouTube’s decision to expand to paid subscriptions signals that there’s an opportunity for emerging direct-pay businesses like Patreon and Subbable, two new platforms focused on building revenue opportunities for creators, to fill that gap in a bigger way in 2014.

This year, we’ve seen early signs of this approach from YouTube itself with the release of its Paid Channels offering on May 9, 2013. The program, which launched with a select few dozen channels and in-

VideoInk: End of Year

Both Patreon and Subbable, each founded by YouTube creators (Jack Conte and the Vlog Brothers, Hank and John Green, respectively), puts the funding of 26

creator-selected content in the hands of their fans. The platforms have already been adopted by veteran and emerging creators like Joe Penna AKA MysteryGuitarMan, Meghan Tonjes, Andrew Huang, and Wheezy Waiter. In a statement to VideoInk, Hank Green said: “The internet is the land of free, so I’m generally wary of any system that forces payment in exchange for access to content. It fragments your audience and sacrifices connection and growth for money. Of course, in situations where money is necessary and not available, it’s a completely viable option, especially if the audience sees the value the content provides and how it’s not cheap to make it. But I’m much more interested in services that ask for payment… rather than require it.” Another major player leading this trend is Vimeo, first with the release of TipJar in September and with the platform’s forthcoming rollout of a pay-to-view infrastructure in Q1 2014. In an interview with in September, Vimeo CEO Kerry Trainor spoke on the release of TipJar — a funding program that allows a creator “to invite their audience to contribute to their work voluntarily either before or after or during a video much like you might tip for a performance in the real world.” He also previewed Vimeo’s upcoming “Pay-to-view model,” which is set for mass rollout in Q1 of 2014. “This model builds upon what we see in the VOD or pay-per-view world today. Creators will place a paywall on the content and viewers will have to pay to access it.” Ahead of the official launch, Vimeo has already been using a recoupable grant program in partnership with Toronto Film Festival as a testing bed for indie films. “We’re really big believers in direct distribution,” adds Vimeo president Dae Mellencamp, also on, noting early traction from the Toronto Film Festival collaboration:


VideoInk: End of Year

This early traction lends a prophetic eye into what is in store for 2014 with Vimeo’s PPV strategy, and shows that perhaps the appetite for pay-to-view digital distribution can form legs in the New Year. As a premium platform, Vimeo is among the first players we’ll see making moves like this in 2014.

Our aim is to make that the easiest-to-use pay-toaccess system and have it be the most flexible in terms of pricing, duration, in terms of times that people have access, and geography,” says Trainor.

Prediction Two: Major MCNs, especially those like Maker

Studios with their own video players and owned-and-operated sites, will start to adopt the “Felicia Day Model” as they siphon more audience from YouTube to “premium” programming offsite. In fact, Maker Studios has already started to embed the Blip player into its various “channel” sites like Polaris and for some of the network’s f lagship creators like Epic Rap Battles. It’s been said for months that Machinima is increasing its focus on its OTT business (where subscriptions and pay-to-view models are inherent). An OTT platform from a network like Machinima would be a ripe testing ground for VOD and digital pay-per-view models given its hyper-engaged audiences. Part of this movement off of YouTube will be supported by higher CPMs, premium sponsorships, and multiple display advertising opportunities that aren’t available on YouTube. But I predict a particular focus will end up being on having a gated area for private, premium content, where creators (and their networks) can monetize via subscriptions and f lexible pay-to-view plans — a hybrid strategy that blends both Subbable’s and Vimeo’s models. 2013 has seen pivotal deals and acquisitions. But this rapidly maturing industry still suffers from stunted monetization. Crowdfunding has simply been a deer path for creators as they hunt for a paved freeway to revenue. Direct-pay, pay-perview strategies like the “Felicia Day Model” will start to define the space in 2014 as platforms like Vimeo and Subbable, and content providers like Maker Studios, work out the best models for funding and distributing content to communities across all platforms.

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While it’s the Hannah Harts and Phil DeFrancos whose faces gets splashed across articles about online video, there are no shortage of companies working behind the scenes to bring brands and talent together. And some of these agencies are developing truly innovative content (and approaches to content), which continue legitimizing the web series space.

VideoInk: End of Year


ell, we are a few hours away from filing 2013 into the history books. It’s been a great year for the online video industry. From breakout programming and technology, to major investments in those creating and monetizing content online, to various kerfuff les between traditional media incumbents and the new-media upstarts, there was plenty to talk about in 2013. And we’re willing to bet there will be even more to talk about as we turn the page to 2014. With that in mind, we rounded up insights and predictions from some of the top executives and thinkers in the space, to see what they’re looking forward to in 2014, and in doing so, provide you with a preview of what’s to come. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

VideoInk: End of Year


Damon Berger, Co-Founder and CEO, What’s Trending

Rick Heitzmann, Founder and Managing Director, FirstMark Capital “2014 will be the year that analytics and intelligence comes to online video.”

“2014 is going to be a transformative year for the online video business. For the past two to three years, companies have been finally successful in experimenting with new online video models, and now the environment is primed to be explosive. Big brand partners and traditional companies who started to circle the online video space will be involved in strategic and M&A partnerships with these startups and entrepreneurs in a huge way in 2014. It’s going to be a great year.”

Paul Kontonis, Partner, Centridium Media, Former Chairman, IAWTV “The brands are coming, the brands are coming! For the last few years since the launch of the Newfronts, we have seen signs that brands are embracing video. With the continued increase in digital video advertising’s share of spend, we know the commitment is there. What is coming next is simply wonderful — brands directly embracing the origination of videos and series, the building of their channels and collaboration with existing creators. These deals will be done directly with the multi-channel networks and the creators themselves. The dollars will f low directly from the brand and the results will be measurable.”

Sim Blaustein, Principal, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments “The ‘portals’ — AOL, Yahoo, potentially a third — will have their ‘House of Cards’ moment with a successful, high-quality original made-for-web series. Traditional publishers — i.e. newspapers and magazines — will invest heavily in infrastructure for online video production and distribution, following the online ad dollars. The homepage of will shift from being predominantly pictures and text to be at least 50% video.

Shira Lazar, Co-Founder and Host, What’s Trending

Facebook (potentially via Instagram) will make a major play in ‘native’ video as an attempt to compete directly with YouTube.”

The idea of a YouTube network will change. Overall, there will be more of a focus on ownership of valuable IP, not just being a broad network with no real ownership of the content or creators around it, which is where we’ve seen more value placed in the past.

“Thinking of how to grow and cater to your audience in the mobile arena will be a huge focus a well as building valuable platforms and ancillary revenue off of YouTube.

David Freeman, Co-Head, Brand Coverage Group, Creative Artists Agency

There will be more mergers of companies (like Break Media and Alloy Digital), and more acquisitions as traditional companies buy in to gain relevance and revenue with next-generation brands and audiences.”

“YouTube will continue to grow and expand. It will become part of everyone’s launch plan. What’s most interesting is that big studios are really interested in the digital video space in terms of the footprint that networks like AwesomenessTV have. I think DreamWorks is looking at AwesomenessTV as an incubation play, and I think we’re going to see a lot more acquisitions like that. Traditional production and media companies know the importance of digital and will want to acquire digital companies to drive audiences and identify up-and-coming talent.”

John McCarus, SVP, Group Director, Brand Content, DigitasLBi “2014 will be the year YouTube talent grows up. I predict we’ll see the first hit TV show and the first major feature film created by and/or starring YouTubers. This will transform the YouTube ecosystem overnight.”


VideoInk: End of Year

End of Year