Viability of professionally produced content on YouTube, Netflix, etc.

I watch a lot of YouTube videos and have been following the fortunes of a few channels. What I’m talking about here is channels putting up professionally produced content with hosts, guests, actors, camera crews, etc. Not someone making their own content at home (the economic viability of which is a whole other topic).

One channel that seems to be in freefall is Break: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClmmbesFjIzJAp8NQCtt8dQ

Until recently, they were doing elaborate prank videos. They lost (got rid of?) their main “star” and started using different talent. One “show” they had on their channel was called “Odd Jobs,” in which they’d have a person visit the set, thinking they were doing some paperwork or something but then put them in a weird situation. Although views were fairly substantial, my back-of-the-hand was that the episodes were costing $5k apiece to make, easily, and there was no way they were paying for themselves.

Prank content on Break has disappeared recently, and they’re barely even putting up the kind of videos they started out with: fail videos, etc. I have to assume they’re not doing too well.

Another channel I like but worry about is Screen Junkies: https://www.youtube.com/user/screenjunkies

They have a lot of elaborate content on nice sets with a variety of hosts, etc. They recently launched a paid service on their own website: Screen Junkies Plus. I worry that they have vastly overextended themselves, as they have launched quite a few shows, including a scripted parody of Agents of Shield (which was terrible). Screen Junkies does get sponsors for some but not all of the one program of theirs that I watch regularly: Movie Fights. But again, it’s hard for me to imagine this stuff really paying for itself with the rough calculation that 1M YouTube views earns about $1,000.

So here’s my logic about professionally produced YouTube content: If a commercial television show struggles to make money even with some sort of substantial viewership, then how can a YouTube program survive with much less viewership?

And I extend that logic to the series that Netflix et al. are starting to put out. Of course, with Netflix, the challenge will be to determine what number of subscribers are subscribing because of the original content. I am interested in the upcoming Gilmore Girls reboot (quite jazzed, in fact!–my gf got me into the show…), and she or I might sign up for Netflix because of that, but Netflix can’t read my mind and know why I signed up. Sure, they can calculate the views of a show, but it’s still hard to know for sure the level of motivation to sign up and/or willingness to continue the subscription for any given show. Then there is the simple fact that those shows are going to cost money on the level of, say, a 90s scripted show like Friends but not generate anywhere near the eyeballs that a show like that used to receive (mindblowing article: the top show in 2014 would not have been in the top 50 in 1994: http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/09/02/network_tv_in_1994_how_the_big_four_s_last_golden_age_happened_20_years.html).

So, those are my thoughts. What are yours?

Netflix might not know that you specifically signed up to watch that show specifically, but they have statistics that are just as good for their purposes. They know how many people they had before that show premiered and how many after, they know similar statistics for before and after they started their original content in general, they know exactly how many people are watching any given show and when. They’re a lot better off in the information department than conventional TV networks are, who mostly just have to accept secondhand accounts of self-reported data from a limited sample of viewers over a limited span of time.

Networks and studios have a lot more overhead.

I lost a long post to a timeout but I’ll just say that I think that Break’s videos cost less than $5,000 to make. I have a friend who produces 42 minutes of basic cable true crime television including research, interviews, scripts, actors, a few days of shooting, and post-production for about $27,000. The “Break” prank video I saw about a gut-busting weight lifter looked a lot cheaper per minute.

But I think you’ve answered your own question. If it costs more to produce content than that content generates in fees from Youtube, people will stop producing expensive content. They will keep the channel live hoping to generate revenue from whatever zombie views the old videos generate and they will perhaps augment it with the cheapest new content they can produce, which for Break is probably fail videos they scrape from other places or that viewers send in.

I’m not sure that Screen Junkies’ launching their own site is a sign that they are overextending themselves. It’s probably a sign that they think their views are worth more than Youtube will pay for them. Maybe they are right and maybe they are wrong. If they are wrong, they can always go back to Youtube.

Did you try using your back button? That usually works for me.

I agree that that prank didn’t look too expensive. The “Odd Jobs” series was much more elaborate. And they have been putting up very few pranks videos at all lately.

I don’t think it’s a sign that they are overextending themselves. I just think there is a big risk that they are. And I agree totally with your point about worth. My guess is that they are not making enough money on YT and therefore launched their own channel. To get people to buy the subscription, they had to launch a substantial amount of shows along with it. They had to gamble that enough people would pay. But if they are wrong, they will probably go out of business totally. Which will be sad, but I doubt they are currently making ends meet via YT.

I wouldn’t worry about Screen Junkies. You’re just guessing about how much financial risk they’re taking and their likelihood of success. Even if the business fails, the creative people behind it can just relaunch a new one and pick up where they left off. The cost to launch a Youtube channel is approaching zero. The people behind it will have learned from their experience and will probably do better next time. Or at least, we can hope so.