After the Streamys, we felt that Harley Morenstein’s speech while presenting was the start of a much larger conversation about the YouTube community and new media industry, particularly where it stands in relation to television and film. We reached out to Harley and his brother (as well as partner at NextTime Productions) Darren, who were gracious enough to get into a wide-ranging discussion over the phone with Logan, our Editor-in-Chief.
NMR: Let’s start with the Streamys and go from there. What, besides a little bit of whiskey, prompted you to get up there and take over for a moment?
Harley: With the Streamys aspect, I felt it was an opportunity to make a statement, not just with the people in the audience, but to the ears outside. Last Streamys I remember we had quote/unquote “real” celebrities like Soulja Boy and Vanilla Ice. The truth is other people pay attention to us, now.
So it was an opportunity to attract attention and maybe do something controversial. I really expected more of a gasp from the audience, rather than collective applause. It was something I’d wanted to do for two years, now.
NMR: Does that feeling filter into Epic Meal Time?
Harley: Yeah, with Epic Meal Time I had said to everyone “act like rap stars” even before we made it. Just have that confidence.
And with the Streamys, with Hannah and Grace hosting now, it seems like the attitudes in the industry are changing. The reality is that there are successful people here, on YouTube, that make more money than “real” celebrities and they have a bigger audience.
NMR: I feel like there’s still a feeling among some creators that they have to diminish the appearance of “selling out,” and downplaying that they’re making money.
Harley: We’ve moved on from the idea of selling out, I think. People feel comfortable asking “how much money does this [YouTuber] make?” It’s not a real thing, they think.
That’s why I said “millions of dollars.” It’s a concept and a quantifiable thing that people understand. I think people understand that we’re making money out here, even with more personal vloggers. You’ll see cameras get better, the house they’re shooting in gets better, the cars they’re driving getting better.
Every YouTuber in the top 100 is a full production company or at least has the ability to be a full production company, and is their own network.
We personally have seven million people to distribute to on YouTube. We have a production company with multiple shows. I started with a camera in a kitchen, but we’re out of the kitchen now. We don’t do ourselves any favors by downplaying the fact that we’re successful and making money.
NMR: In another [forthcoming] interview, I was discussing with up and coming filmmakers who felt that the doors at YouTube were closing, that subscriptions were starting to level out and there was a feeling of being on the outside looking in. Is that true?
Harley: We got in right before YouTube was getting taken seriously. I can remember our channel growing and looking around at how people were perceiving the space and going, “man, we got in just before.”
But if you look around, the reality is, despite our production company and network, the #1 YouTuber is still a guy with a camera talking to his fans [PewDiePie]. Pranksters are still smashing the view counter. You can still be a guy in a kitchen.
Every channel and every popular channel has a face and a person in front of it. And that’s the biggest thing with YouTube. People want to relate. It’s a charm that YouTube has over every other medium. It’s all about engagement, and there’s a tremendous amount of luck in play.
NMR: So we went through the past and present, let’s take a look at the future, especially after the fire sale of MCNs like Maker [to Disney] and Fullscreen [to the Chernin Group / AT&T]. How do you see things going in the next couple of years?
Harley: We’re in such a weird gray area, I have a hard time visualizing it. Right now, our MCN is our manager and our production company. It’s something we wanted to have. This is what we wanted. From what I’ve watched, it’s not enough to just be an MCN selling ads. There’s a bigger play here.
You want to attach yourself to these YouTubers, and their brand and face, and you want to get behind it. What they do in the long run, I just imagine them as a production company.
Darren: With our experience with MCNs, Revision3 and now Collective, it almost feels like YouTubers are in the midst of a shift into multi-platform entertainers. MCNs are doing the same kind of shift from selling ads to building production companies and management.
Harley: With the idea that it’s becoming more difficult to get into YouTube, what’s wrong is that it’s hard for them to be taken seriously, because we within the industry haven’t really taken ourselves seriously.
It’s funny, you get to a certain level on the web, you always hear ‘you should get a show.’ As in TV. It’s always ‘you did well enough on the web to earn a TV show.’ Do we need to?
Share this interview with your friends, and comment below — how do you feel about the direction of the YouTube and new media industry?