It is one of the oldest stories in show business. A young but talented artist starts making waves in their field. Their contribution to the medium is so innovative that the gatekeepers of the entertainment industry can’t help but take notice. The artist’s future is promising, and the golden shores of fame and fortune are on the horizon, but first, they have to make the right connections. With those connections in mind, the artist signs to a representation agency or gets into bed with executives who have abandoned their ideals towards art for that gold-plated bottom line. The artist signs a contract, creativity is compromised for capital, and the rest is history.
It’s a story that haunts the boardrooms of every Hollywood talent agency as both a grim warning to naïve artists and a reminder of how business is done for their corporate handlers. The entertainment industry’s belief in this standard practice is so strong, that it bleeds its way into every budding form of media. Such is the case with digital video and YouTube specifically.
As more stories surface regarding the practices of various YouTube networks, this young entertainment industry seems to become more like the film and TV industry with each passing day. By mimicking the behavior of their guiding lights in Hollywood, many YouTube networks are dramatically altering how young creators are being treated and represented.
YouTube’s number one destination for news and politics, The Young Turks have a set of different ideals for their organization. As the creators of the first internet TV news show, The Young Turks network has seen every rising and falling tide in digital video. With that knowledge, they have taken a new approach towards signing creators to join their network of news, pop and political web shows.
Currently, The Young Turks have 10 partners under their network and are looking to maintain a small but effective roster of partners in the future. I spoke with The Young Turks Chief Operating Officer Steven Oh just as his contemporaries in YouTube representation began coming under fire for their contract malpractices. With YouTube networks and social media sites being criticized daily for their tricky contracts and confusing legal speak, we decided to keep it simple because after all, isn’t that what the YouTube community used to be?
What makes The Young Turks network different from those YouTube networks that are currently under fire for their contract practices?
Steven Oh: TYT has an entirely different model and mindset. We are not about squeezing out every last penny of profit. As you can see from our flagship show, “The Young Turks,” we have a very progressive ideology that embraces honesty, fairness, equality and social justice. In fact, we’ve turned down sponsorship opportunities from large corporations whose views and ethics we do not share (a major oil company and a for-profit college). We want to create a network where our partners truly can build a community and assist each other in ways that are complementary and cost-effective.
One way we do that is by aggregating only those partners who are right for our network. Who are such partners? It’s partners who create smart, thoughtful and socially relevant content. Right now, we are focused primarily on news and politics as well as social commentary, because that’s what we cover on “The Young Turks” show, and we’ve aggregated great partners such as professor Robert Reich, political writer David Sirota, YouTuber David Pakman and several more. Recently, we launched “PopTrigger,” a great fun show that tackles issues relating to pop entertainment, and as a result, we are now adding a few very select entertainment focused partners like Bree Essrig.
Our vision is to have a limited number of partners in our network. Right now we only have 10 partners, and I see us growing to no more than 20-50 partners by year end. We will NEVER be those giant networks that aggregate hundreds or even thousands of partners because I just don’t think there is any way you can effectively assist all those partners, and if you can’t add value to your partners, what is the point of being a network? In fact, we don’t have an open application process for creators to become our partner, and we don’t even market or advertise the fact that we are a YouTube-approved MCN. We hand-select only those creators who create great content and have a reputation of integrity. We are proud that several creators have sought us out to join our network despite having had long relationships with other, more well-established big networks.
Once partners join our network, we work very closely with them on all aspects of their channel development. Partners have free use of our studios, and we even provide camera operators and other assistance, when available, without any fees. We are building out edit bays so that our partners will be able to easily edit content that they shoot in our studios, also without charging them any fees. We even hold bi-weekly meetings with each individual partner to ensure that we are providing as much help as we possibly can. Of course all metrics available on YouTube analytics are completely transparent to our partners at all times.
Do you believe that these networks taking advantage of creators are damaging the YouTube ecosystem?
Absolutely. Whenever artists themselves or those who purport to control them become primarily motivated by profit, it hurts creativity, and the product suffers. YouTube was a place for “rugged individualism” where passionate artists could create great content and find personal and financial success. Now it seems that there has been a “corporatization” of the landscape where it’s becoming increasingly difficult for individuals to find such success without the backing of a large company — or at least that’s the narrative driven by many people in this industry. I do believe that it’s very difficult to do it on your own, which is why we are trying to create a real community of like-minded partners in a smaller, kinder, more socially-conscious network.
What can young creators do to avoid pitfalls like the ones seen at networks who have been receiving media attention for their contract disputes?
Young creators have to do their homework before signing with ANY network. Reading the fine print is never fun, but that is something they absolutely must do. Also, they have to speak to current and former partners of the network that they are considering joining and ask: “What are the pros and cons of this network? Why are you with this network as opposed to a different one? Why did you leave?” etc. The two most important things that creators must be careful about are: (1) ownership of intellectual property (the network should NEVER EVER take your intellectual property so if they try to do that, run for the hills; and (2) termination of contract (the contract should never be longer than 1 year and any effort to lock you in for a long time should be a bright red flag).