THE YEAR IS 2009. JUSTIN BIEBER IS 15 AND HAS BEEN CAPITALIZING ON THE POWER OF YOUTUBE FOR JUST ONE YEAR, HAVING BEEN DISCOVERED ON THE PLATFORM.
You might not remember it, but Maker Studios, the now largest content network on YouTube which attracts more than 10 billion views every month with over 650 million subscribers, certainly does.
In 2009 a group of dynamic content creators joined together to drive audiences to a single destination–The Station. Maker is now home to top digital stars, multiple channels, and content, where programming is organized by genre. Court Petrie, Head of Audience, and Rona Moser, Director of Programming, spearhead Life + Style, developing content for The Platform, Maker's global beauty and fashion destination. With shows like The Fashion Statement with LA DJ and trendsetter Amy Pham, The Platform has over 37M views on YouTube.
But with ever-changing platforms, why is YouTube and Maker still relevant?
"With ever-changing platforms, why is YouTube and Maker still relevant?"
According to Court it doesn't hurt that Maker is, "one of the oldest multi-channel networks. We’re the pioneers," he says, "the OGs if you will." But even OGs have to pivot and change. "We’re moving past being a multi-channel network and into being a true media company," explains Court, "with a focus on original programming and intellectual property. We want our creators to constantly be creating and pushing their brand, and that is where we are really strong."
Strong they are, at least if Disney's nearly 1 billion dollar March 2015 acquisition is proof for the Maker pudding. In a deal that raised a few eyebrows and got comment sections shaking, Maker received 500 million upfront, cementing the company's belief in the massive opportunity that short form digital video holds.
It's strategically-enhanced storytelling with plenty of room for growth and expansion. In 2016 Court and Rona are focusing on pushing their current audience, trying to get new audiences, and thinking about what will do well in distribution with Maker's 20 plus distribution partners in the US and worldwide, maintaining that content creators should be thinking about this in the same way.
As for retaining an audience in an over-saturated market both content and platform-wise, it's a two-part strategy: "Audience is based on listen and learn," explains Rona. "You have audience comments- listen to those. Learn their habits. When are they dropping off? When are they tuning in? For instance, with The Fashion Statement we know if they don't see the looks upfront in some kind of a montage, they aren’t going to stay to watch."
Adds Court, "You have to look at the algorithms and the numbers to figure out how to bubble your content up."
In terms of new platforms, they think betting on Facebook Live is a pretty safe. And over the next year audiences can expect a rebrand from The Platform as well as Court's strategy for social programming that involves Snapchat and Instagram working together.
“We know what we do really well. As long as we create strong brands, we can change platforms easily. You can't just be on YouTube anymore. This is the time where you can experience and grow your brand and grow your audience,” heartens Court.
"As long as we create strong brands, we can change platforms easily. You can't just be on YouTube anymore."
“Women are looking for inspirational, but relatable content,” says Rona. “That’s what we want to develop, and that’s not always a ten-second clip.”
The biggest mistake they see with new talent is inconsistency. "You have to figure out a system," explains Rona. "Whether that's Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, or something else, but you have to have a schedule."
"There's a reason it's called social programming," says Court. "It needs to be consistent. But early on you should be taking risks and trying new things. I've had a lot of conversations with green content creators who say, 'This is my brand,' but they're not established enough yet, so taking risks is paramount."
Which means breaking from the pack. "Everyone is doing 'What's in my Bag' and smokey eye tutorial," Rona points out. "Don't do that. You do you boo."
The talent Maker wants to get in bed with are those with an original POV-- because what Court and Rona are looking for are the possibilities beyond short-form. For instance, developing a television show that's unique to that person, merchandise that's special, and brand partnerships that live online and off. They need to understand the 'why' behind the talent before they can start a conversation with a brand. You can post a photo that everyone else is posting, but if there isn’t intention or your voice behind it, “You’re just another follower,” says Rona.
Two such Maker talent with an understanding of their respective brands are Chriselle Lim and Alisha Marie. "Chriselle is one of those rare talents that has mastered her brand on every platform, says Court. "Her brand carries out across platforms in a very fluid way. There are large brands that don’t do it as well as she does."
"Luck," vocalizes Rona, "has nothing to do with it. The most successful talent in the content game understand the numbers and analytics." Something Court and Rona say the Create & Cultivate audience will glean from listening to Maker's roster talk about harnessing the power of digital platforms this coming May 7th.
As Rona says, "Be a beginning." Which is clearly something Maker has been doing since 2009.
Images shot by Joshua Escueta.