After having worked with countless rising and current new media artists over the past three years, I’ve noticed that people trying to get into this industry of “new Hollywood” have a lot of high hopes and dreams. For YouTubers specifically, many have experienced for the first time an actual company wanting to sign them onto a network with indirect promises of success. Many people even take that big leap of faith and relocate to Los Angeles, which is currently known the biggest hub for new media creators. But like traditional Hollywood, most who pursue dreams in this new industry with expectations of what they could become only face disappointment in the end, whether it’s because of lack of knowledge of the business side of the industry, or just plain inexperience. With that being said, here are 5 blunt truths I have compiled to help you survive in the new digital entertainment industry.
1. YouTube Networks are businesses and will ALWAYS look out for their best interests first — not yours. Deal with it.
Yes, there has been a lot of bad press lately in regards to how networks are “mistreating” their creators. While I personally think networks are wrong in some of these cases, it’s also the creators’ fault for not paying attention to the contracts they are signing in the first place. Remember, you are dealing with a business that is at the mercy of investors who are looking to get a positive return on their investment. They are looking to get the best deal possible with you to ensure more stability in gaining revenue for the long and short term. While I know that the culture of YouTube was built on making friends and producing great content together, the formation of networks and ad agencies has changed the game. Yes, from an idealistic standpoint, this sucks. But, we’d all be kidding ourselves if we expected YouTube to make such a big financial impact on our lives and not see this coming. So with that being said, no matter how nice these people are and what they promise, they are absolutely not your friends. The fact is, you are a business opportunity for them, and they believe they can make money off of you. Nothing more. This doesn’t mean that networks are bad and will screw you over every chance they get; as I’ve mentioned in the past, they can provide some great resources that will improve the production quality of your content, provide collaboration opportunities with top-tier talent, and get you some pretty great brand deals.
Overall, just remember this: You must do your due diligence in researching and negotiating the best contract terms between you and your potential network. After all, this your business career we are talking about, dammit!
2. Advertisers (especially on the internet) don’t care about how much traffic you can bring them as much as how that traffic converts into brand equity or monetary value for them.
Every once in a while, you’ll get a brand deal where you are asked to promote a specific product or brand on your videos or social media outlets, which then directs your traffic to a link of the advertiser’s choice. However, while you may drive a ton of traffic to the advertiser’s target site, if your audience isn’t engaging with the site or buying something, your channel will be seen as serving no benefit to the advertiser, and they will most likely not be a repeat customer. This means that you need to take the time to analyze your audience and see which advertisers will benefit from your audience. Word gets around, and you don’t want advertisers talking about your channel not converting for them on the back-end with other potential advertisers.
So always remember: You can boast all you want about your viewership, the number of followers you have on Twitter, and fans on Facebook, but when dealing with for-profit businesses who are paying to advertise on your channel, it will mostly, if not ALWAYS be about the bottom line.
3. The mediums you use to host or promote your content will ALWAYS be changing, and you will be forced to adapt — whether you like it or not.
We’ve all experienced it, whether it’s YouTube completely changing their new layout, to Facebook changing their algorithm (which significantly decreases reach to our fan pages). Understand that most (if not all) social media tools that are out there are businesses. Like I mentioned about the YouTube networks above, they will always be doing things that they believe will make sense business-wise. Instead of constantly and exclusively relying only on these tools, through which you’ll have difficulty getting heard, focus on building your own ways of reaching your fans. For example, Smosh has done an amazing job with building Smosh.com. All their fans are funnelled from their different online platforms to their site and then converted into users on their site. By doing this, Smosh has slowly lost their dependence on third-party outlets to distribute their content. In my personal opinion, the long term goal for every online digital creator should be to produce great content and to own their audience.