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Business - Written by on Thursday, December 11, 2008 13:25 - 2 Comments

Denis Hancock
YouTube Stars: when do prosumers turn into producers?

Regular readers know that “prosumerism” – when consumers become actively involved in the creation of the goods and services they consume – is my primary research topic right now. Back in October I wrote about a piece I was working on called Broadcasting yourself: How important is it to YouTube’s Success? One of the key findings of this research was that while YouTube’s tagline indicates the site’s popularity is driven by prosumers creating content for each other, the reality appears to be that  “traditional media content” – snippets from TV programs, music videos, and the like – is far more important.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that prosumers aren’t an important part of the site. I got to thinking about this again when I read the recent NY Times piece YouTube Videos Pull in Real Money. It’s a story about how some of YouTube’s partners are now starting to make serious money from ads served on the original videos they create – with the feature story being about Michael Buckley, who has created his own celebrity chatter show.

Michael’s story looks like a classic case of prosumerism – he was an administrative assistant at a music production company who started producing a thrice-weekly (self described) “silly” show, after investing $2,000 in a camera, $6 on a piece of fabric for a backdrop, and bit more in a couple of lights. His silly show became quite popular after a full year of concerted effort, and he now receives an average of 200,000 views per video, while the most popular get millions. Now a funny thing has happened – he’s becoming so successful, and making so much money, he’s quit his other job and is now devoted to it full time.

So this leads to a simple question – is Michael a prosumer or not? I would personally argue that he was, but he isn’t anymore. After all, it’s now his full-time job – there is no fuzzy line. In turn, this brings an interesting dynamic to prosumerism on YouTube – as the business model sorts itself out on the site, it might not so much empower prosumers (because most aren’t popular enough to make an real money), but to allow the most popular prosumers to turn into full-time producers – a subtle but important difference.

As I note in my research, this is leading to an interesting dynamic. It’s a common belief that YouTube represents a shift away from the “few to the many” broadcast model to a “many to the many”, or even “many to the few” (each with their own piece of a long tail). However, combine the views for these popular prosumer-turned-producers with the traditional media content on YouTube, and the model continues to look a heck of a lot like “few to the many” to me.

And that’s not a bad thing – in fact I think it’s great, as YouTube effectively creates a meritocracy where anyone with a good idea and presentation style, a couple of thousand bucks to invest, and the willingness to dedicate themselves to building an audience, can earn their just rewards. Though it is not neccesarily so great for established media companies of course…



2 Comments

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Web Video Production on YouTube
Dec 14, 2008 12:26

[...] This NY Times article describes the small but significant number of independent content producers on YouTube who make significant money. Apparently 6-figure annual incomes are not uncommon with the right content, audience, and advertising mix. The same NY Times article is reviewed by Denis Hancock in this article on the Wikinomics blog. [...]

Joe Zen
Jan 8, 2009 12:49

I’m very interested in learning if anyone has put together a solid framework on how to turn your shows into money producers. For instance, take the fewdio channel on youtube. They produce awesome, like professional actors and everything awesome, horror shorts on youtube. How can a channel like that turn into something more than a resume for a feature film?

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