There is something about exploitative reality television shows like “Hoarders” and “Intervention” that appeals to audiences–myself included–in an affirming kind of way. No matter how lousy our jobs are or how much debt is racked up, we can look at the destroyed lives on those shows and say, “At least things aren’t that bad.” At first, the shows on premium YouTube channel SPACES had that effect on me. The show “I Live With My Mom” gave me a sense of gratitude that made my neighbors’ screaming kids seem, if not pleasant, tolerable. “Offbeat Spaces” reminded me there were much worse places to occupy than my tiny apartment with a broken washing machine. I gained appreciation of my living situation through the down-and-out DJ and the homeless Wall Street protester.
Over time, though, the original content on SPACES began to evolve in my mind. I still received the same feelings of reinforcement from the channel’s roster of bizarre and outlandish characters; it just came from a different perspective. The 30-year-old living with his mom who I once pitied was all of a sudden a friend I went to high school with. The freelancer with the microscopic apartment became me. Gaining confidence in my situation through my separation from these people quickly and irrevocably became, instead, strength through solidarity. It became programming for a generation living at home with the bank calling and student loan interest rising.
Chief Marketing Officer Joseph Epstein and VP of Production and Series Development Bradley Werner are the driving forces behind SPACES. DBG, the production and distribution company that they work for, is responsible for the premium channel as well as a number of digital videos for clients spanning from Coca-Cola to Ford. Epstein and Werner have a vision for SPACES–one that is fueled by the hand that Generation Y has been dealt. I sat down to talk with the duo about bringing home and garden to the city and introducing interior design to YouTube.
When YouTube approached DBG to create a premium channel, why did you decide to create a home and design channel? Was that DBG’s idea or did YouTube suggest the idea?
Bradley Werner: That was our initiative; we have done a lot of branded entertainment shows, and over the years, we have created an entire database of ideas. Obviously, when we do a show, they only pick a dozen to a half-dozen of the ideas that we come up with. After doing shows of Pier One and Kohler and in the home and design space, we had a lot of ideas that our development team were excited about. They tended to revolve around inspired interior design or inspired architecture or cool spaces, and that was the impetus. We said, “Let’s pitch a channel around all of these ideas we already came up with and see if we can develop a brand around those shows.”
Joseph Epstein: The layer on top of that is you look at the home and design entertainment space over the last, say, twenty years starting with Bob Vila, and you see a huge growth in interest, but a less, perhaps, dynamic trajectory in terms of content that is out there. I don’t know if you watch any of those shows, but HGTV does a good job in terms of reveals and design tips. I don’t want to be critical necessarily, but we thought we could bring a really fresh angle to that space.
The content and concept behind SPACES is centered on a hip younger audience. Did you create this content for young urbanites to appeal to the YouTube audience or just because it hasn’t been done in HGTV programming yet?
Joseph: I think both. I mean, if you watch “House Hunters,” HGTV doesn’t go into the cities. It is $200,000 homes in Ohio, which is great; it’s fantastic, but there is some degree of inaccessibility there. So, we wanted to speak to everybody, but we wanted to reflect a set of experiences that we thought a more sophisticated audience might have.
When you first launched SPACES, you had content that featured a lot of eccentric characters like in “I Live With My Mom.” Were those the types of people you were trying to find, or did the content just attract a stranger type of personality?
Bradley: I think we were looking for people like that at first. In our first year, we are peppering the stories, so our series “Offbeat Spaces” is less about the personalities and more about these offbeat spaces that are made. By virtue of those, the personality of the people who created those spaces comes out. That is a big piece of the programming that we produce. How do you put a piece of your personality into the place that you live in?
Concerning the show “I Live With My Mom,” the typical stereotype of someone living with their mom who is in their late 20’s is that they are a loser or down on their luck. With the show, it seems like you have tried to put across the point that in this recession economy, this is becoming more and more the norm. Was this your intention when developing the show?
Bradley: 100 percent, that is exactly what we were going for. I think that this is the reality that a lot of people graduating college or who have been out of college are coming in to, and it is not that type of stigma anymore. I think that once you get older than 6 or 7 years–when the recession began to hit hard–people still believe that. But it is more and more the norm, so we figured play into that. You are back home–it doesn’t mean that you aren’t anymore of an adult or that your growth has been stunted in anyway. We wanted to say, “We’re here to help. Let’s put away the good effort soccer trophy, and let’s help you start that maturation process.”
Joseph: If you look at “House Hunters International,” the candy center of that show is always the places, and the thing that resonates is we are emphasizing the person in a home and design show as opposed to the space itself.
Many of SPACES’ shows are split up into two or three parts. Is this a response to the YouTube audience’s attention or demand for short content?
Joseph: What we are finding from a YouTube behavior perspective is that while people have naturally gravitated to shorter “snackable” content, that is slowly changing, and I know YouTube wants it to change.
Bradley: On our channel, specifically, what we are looking at is we totally see where YouTube is going, and they want to be able to have longer form content, so we are sitting at the nexus of that.
Many of YouTube’s premium channels are not doing well right now. Are you, as a premium channel, learning from these failing channels? How are you planning to combat this track record of poorly performing channels?
Joseph: I think any channel and any content producer that is on YouTube should be continuing to learn. I think you could say the same thing about anybody, generally. The fact is if you are doing the same thing you were doing in 2005, you probably are not doing it successfully. The way that we approached this is we were launching not just a new channel, but also a whole new brand and that’s going to take time. I will tell you exactly what I have been telling the entire team from the CEO on down, is that we have to come down everyday and look to learn and drive views and engage with our consumer base in an authentic and accessible way. If we keep doing that, and if we keep learning and we keep putting in the work everyday, we will achieve a degree of success.
SPACES has some new shows coming out soon, can you tell us anything about them?
Bradley: One show we have coming out is called “Take Me Home” with Arden Myrin from MADtv, and she is going to be going around and trying to get people to take her home to show her their apartment. We are going to be doing more “Offbeat Spaces,” and we are also going to be doing a show called “Digital Architect.” Where “Offbeat Spaces” is about the architecture and interior design, we also want to look at some of the cool things people are doing in the technology space, so people who have taken their love of gadget-building to the next level and might be making walls that move or insane viewing rooms or using green energy by themselves to power their home.