What's More Important in Online Video, Numbers or Names? A Recap of VidCon and RTX

Jul 10, 2014

Do you know what an MCN is?

Neither did I until last month.

The acronym stands for multi-channel network, which is a company that partners with online video (usually YouTube) channels to help streamline their management, finances, production, and public relations. I'd heard a few years back that some of the biggest YouTubers had managers and agents, much like "real" celebrities do. I just didn't know they were all part of this bigger thing known as an MCN.

Which is why I'm glad I attended VidCon in Anaheim at the end of June. Staying on top of the changes and developments in your industry is always a smart idea (or, in my case, catching up on the stuff I've missed over the years because I was paying more attention to hilarious spoof and gaming videos instead of the business behind them).

MCNs weren't the only thing I learned at VidCon, though. Along with the other industry attendees, I heard YouTube's new CEO Susan Wojcicki's speech about some of the incredible new things the online video giant has in the works, like translation options for non-English speakers and a virtual "tip jar" where audiences can donate to their favorite creators.

And in the same vein of tips, the topic of monetization was consistently brought up by attendees and presenters alike at the event. It seems the larger the online video industry gets, the more creators will have to produce enough content to actually make a living, and fight media conglomerates who will eventually try to take more than their fair share of the profits. Whole panels were dedicated to figuring out how creators can make more cash and keep it in their pockets in an honest, efficient, and legal way which keeps them both sane and wealthy.

Did you ever think ten years ago that we'd be here now, discussing how much YouTubers make each year?

Probably not. But underneath all those hours of audience viewing and dollars of revenue is something more. Something that launched online video into the forefront of this generation's minds on a daily basis. Something that's causing the industry to grow exponentially larger.

That thing is the ravenous desire for high-quality, readily-available, visual entertainment from creators whose audiences are passionate about their work.

This hunger for video entertainment is demonstrated most profoundly by one of the most successful companies in all of online video: Rooster Teeth.

I've previously mentioned my affection for this company, which has been around since before YouTube permanently altered internet culture; Rooster Teeth was creating web series before it was "cool." The staff was able to build a self-sustaining company within just a few years after it started the hit show Red vs. Blue.

Rooster Teeth's co-founder and creative director, Burnie Burns, gave the VidCon keynote speech where he emphasized taking a focus off all the stats the online video industry fawns over, and turning attention to the people who are behind those stats in the first place. He essentially said that numbers and charts and spreadsheets mean nothing if you don't have a core fan base willing to support your every decision.

And he knows exactly what he's talking about. Only a week after his speech, I sat down with Burns at Rooster Teeth's very own gaming and internet culture convention, RTX, in Austin, Texas, to discuss the success of the company's first-ever Indiegogo campaign for its feature film Lazer Team. Burns revealed that even though they've had a massive following that helped establish the company as a pioneer in the online video industry, the staff continues to be flabbergasted by the power of their fans.

As if the attendance numbers of RTX this year weren't enough proof (roughly 30,000 people showed up, tripling the mere 9,000 or so from 2013), Burns pointed out that while everyone's praising Lazer Team for becoming Indiegogo's Most Funded Film ever with over $2.4 million dollars, the real number they should be looking at was the number of contributors: 37,492.

This seems like a lot at first glance, but compare that number to the 1.6+ million users on Rooster Teeth's site alone, and suddenly you're looking at that core fan base Burns encouraged companies to pay attention to during his VidCon keynote.

Sure, Burns was excited that Rooster Teeth hit its initial goal of $650,000 within 10 hours, and $1 million within two days, but he's far more aware of the fact it only took a fraction of Rooster Teeth's audience to get them there.

And that was my takeaway from VidCon and RTX: by all means, keep making money through online video creation, but realize that your numbers can be misleading -- your fans, starving for more amazing videos from you, are what truly matters.