This is a guest post by filmmaker Robin Schmidt, who today courts controversy with his ongoing series Choosing an Online Video Platform. Next time you see a view count in the millions, you might wonder where some of those views came from! This is not to say that I'm suggesting filmmakers cheat, but No Film School is devoted to sharing the tools that might help a filmmaker succeed, and the ability to hack YouTube is certainly worth filing under "good to know" -- even if you never employ such tactics. Without further ado, here's Robin:
The Changing Face of Online Video
In the last two installments of this article I talked about the rapidly changing face of online video. It is splintering at a vicious rate and steering us inexorably to the point at which our TVs and our computer screens are, effectively, no longer divided. This is the crucial piece of the whole puzzle as it removes the boundary between traditional media consumption (remote) and the flighty, multi-touchpoint agitated consumption (mouse and keyboard) that characterises the way we consume media online. I think this is incredibly important for us as content creators because our goal should not be just to create but also to nurture the audience for our work. With the merger of TV and web the potential audience suddenly increases dramatically, giving us a democratic and completely workable way to become broadcasters in our own right.
With increased audience comes increased revenue potential, along with everything else that comes with it. Many people simply don’t watch a huge amount of video online except during a lunch hour break. Smash the line between their computers and their television and it’s suddenly game on. This isn’t going to take long. Televisions are already shipping with apps built in for specifically this purpose and, as always, those brave enough to recognise the opportunity early will thrive in a way none following will be allowed to. It is a bit like the old west all over again and I can see great golden opportunities for us out there. You just have to do your homework. ((There is a small caveat to all this which is the issue of net neutrality, which I won’t go into here, but it’s threatening to shake apart the very foundations on which the net was built. Not pretty and you can read about it here.))
This brings us neatly back to YouTube and the work you can do there to help you make the most of this new frontier once we’re upon it. Creating and nurturing an audience on YouTube is a smart move as it’s likely to be the go-to place for web TV video once the service gets up to speed. If an audience is already in place, if your work is already popular then you’ll be able to get going a lot faster. Remember, the goal is always to finance the next job, to finance the next episode, to monetize, be self-sufficient, be independent, be in control. As I wrote in the last post, building your audience on YouTube is a painstaking process and requires you to be all over your social media touchpoints, outside of YouTube, on Facebook particularly, as much as building contacts on the site itself. One of the best ways (supposedly) to really drive traffic through your YouTube channel is for one of your videos to make it onto the ‘most watched’ list, the front page of YouTube itself. Your video needs to be seriously trending to do this, lots of people watching it in a very short space of time. You tend to find this happening after TV shows where some enterprising soul has ripped a particular clip and posted it, with all those wishing to show their friends what they missed sending it on. This is not going to happen to your lovingly created clip. But that’s not to say that it can’t.
As I’ve already written, deciding what to put on YouTube is very very important. As I’ve discovered with my blog audiences tend to grow in fits and spurts rather than in any linear, predictable way. So, you should plan your online video existence the same way. One clip will suddenly draw lots of people to the site, you’ll see a spike then it will settle (ideally at a much higher level than before). Your job then is twofold, maintain the audience you already have, then hook in new people with something special, then maintain them, aim for another spike, etc. etc. What we’ve been trying to do with Super Massive Raver is react to what’s happening on TV and make our videos accordingly. The problem we have is that I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to keep doing that. It’s much better if you plan in advance, have the video ready to go then unleash it on the world at exactly the right moment i.e. just after the final of a big TV show like the X Factor or Dancing with the Stars, with your content designed to catch the searches people are doing for those trending shows.
Now, onto something controversial. Cheating. Yes, it’s possible to cheat on YouTube. There are quite a few sites, like VivoViews, Tubeplays.com and Increaseyoutubeviews.com which will sell you YouTube views. What!??? Yes, you can buy them. Not only that, you can specify at what speed you get them, you can buy subscribers, you can buy channel views, comments, likes, friends, the whole works. It’s not particularly expensive either: 5,000 for $10. They’ll take an awfully long time to get there but that’s really not that much. Of course you can get them delivered a lot faster than that but it’ll cost you a lot more. A speedy 1,000,000 views will cost you in the region of $12,000. If that shocks you then it really shouldn’t. YouTube is a game, and like all games, it’s quite possible to cheat.If a video has pretty small numbers, chances are they’re completely real. If they’re remarkably high, they might have been boosted by services like those listed above.
This is a real fact of YouTube and not something to be terribly worried about, because, well, because you can play along too. Should you wish to. Garnering views all on your own will take a huge amount of energy and resources, and as I already mentioned, the great beast that is the viewer doesn’t watch videos if no-one else is watching them. The collective sheep-following is extraordinary and we are all guilty of it. Setting aside budget for an early viewer boost through one of these services allows you to get the ball rolling. If you have a spare $12,000 lying around to break 1,000,000 views overnight then you’ll quickly see your video on the front page of YouTube and lots and lots of people coming to see your work. And that’s really the point, draw 'em in and hold 'em. If you’ve got nothing else for people to see, to keep them invested in your work, then there’s no point paying for absurdly fast views.
Next question, does it even work. Well, yes it does. How do I know? Well, how do you think? I was curious to see what would happen if I paid to have views directed to a video. There’s absolutely no way of quantifying whether you actually have received the full number you’ve paid for but there’s no doubt that I saw a definite spike in the numbers of views. Subscribers turn up but they don’t have avatars and that tends to reduce their credibility. Comments are a waste of time as they’re written from a stock list and look utterly idiotic. You can always pass them off as bot spam but it’s really not worth it. Videos with lots of views but hardly any comments are always suspicious.
There’s a great scene in Boiler Room where Ben Affleck urges his young brokers to ‘Act as if’. On YouTube you need to act as if you have a great big regular audience, even if you don’t. If you believe in your content but you’re a small independent creator then attracting people to your site takes a really long time. Investing in the ‘act as if’ quotient of your site just means putting stats in place that make believe other people are watching so it’s worth their while watching too. It’s pathetic and sad but it works. Now, before you go getting on your high horse about how this goes against the spirit of the web, just bear this in mind. YouTube isn’t fair, there are tons of content creators (particularly record labels) pumping tons of cash into drawing people’s eyes to their content. Viewers are also getting to watch your content for free, and you should be able to protect your investment of time and energy. You wouldn’t think twice about printing a flyer to publicise your film; this is the YouTube equivalent.
Would I recommend you consider these services? I think you’d be an idiot not to. This is the game. There are other services I’d recommend looking into to help you manage YouTube better. One of these is a web based service called Tube Promoter. This allows you to harvest commenters from videos, or subscribers to channels and send friend requests to them. Invite people to become friends, they check out your site, they stay, they subscribe because you have great content. There’s another service called Tube Toolbox which seems a better bit of software but it won’t run on a Mac unfortunately. Again, these services are designed to make the process of building an audience on YouTube just a little bit easier. Think about it, if you can make money on YouTube and you want to build an audience, it makes a lot of sense to use any tool you can lay your hands on to cut through and be successful. I don’t work for any of these companies, I’m not selling anything, I’m just trying to shed some light on what’s really going on, where those huge numbers we see might actually be coming from. Remember: Act as if.
I’m Robin Schmidt, also known in music video circles as El Skid. I’m a freelance director, editor and latterly cameraman, as well as doing all sorts of other bits and pieces like graphics and voiceovers. I am not a director of photography. And never will be. I’ve been working in music video, corporate and extreme sports up till now but my big love is drama, which is easily the toughest directing game to gain any kind of foothold in. I set up the production company Chrome Productions in 2002 which served as a brilliant apprenticeship for learning key skills, but I’ve now left to pursue drama, not necessarily in the conventional way, but in a way that reflects the changing landscape of filmmaking today, and the one that does away with all the bullshit that seems to float around this business. Earlier this year I won the Bahamas 14 Islands Film Challenge and earned the right to work with Canon as a pro envoy for video and convergence (a fancy term for shooting on DSLRs). I was also named one of Moviescope Magazine’s ‘One to Watch’ which must mean I’m doing something right!