Hank Green, who co-founded the Vlogbrothers channel and VidCon alongside his brother John, serves as one of the online video industry’s most decisive voices. Green is never shy about speaking his mind, and in a recent post on Medium, he has shared his thoughts on the massive amount of money flying into online video productions. As he explains, this surge of capital has allowed thousands of content creators to profit, but it has also made it difficult for smaller productions to stand out.
Green frames his argument around what he called “The Rule of SMOSH.” He recalls a conversation with Barry Blumberg, who heads the Smosh brand over at Defy Media. “The guys are so genius,” Blumberg says, “They‘ve always known that they can’t look like TV. They have to look just a little bit better than what the average person can do.”
According to Green, this principle has guided Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla to online fame. Instead of spending huge amount of money, they simply stayed slightly ahead of the curve, which has allowed them to stay relevant in a changing industry. Green argues that big-spending investors have failed to implement this strategy. “Because money is pouring in and a lot of people don’t understand The Rule of SMOSH, new entrants are spending Hollywood-level money to make their content stand out,” he writes. “People who are new to the medium are starting to think that online video is not ‘Just a little bit better than everything else on YouTube’ but ‘Just a little bit worse than everything on TV.'”
Green believes this is an inefficient model. He cites Minute Physics and HowToBasic as channels that have thrived with small production teams and novel content, and he urges up-and-coming content creators to focus on that model rather than the larger, more bloated approach he sees in big-money productions. “That’s what I’d like to see,” he writes, “An startling increase depth [sic] and breadth and diversity of content.”
Green’s argument is salient, though it does ignore some crucial elements of what is ultimately a multi-level discussion about the identity of the YouTube community. Hollywood-quality productions may be wasteful, but they’re also inherently less risky. For every Minute Physics and HowToBasic, there are hundreds if not thousands of channels that have trouble finding a large audience in spite of their exciting, diverse approaches to content. A good example is Player Piano; it is a great concept with a small-but-talented group of people working on it, but it is still struggling to raise funds on Indiegogo.
The big-money projects Green bemoans optimize each part of the production process. This may be inefficient, but it also guarantees a higher floor. Green is asking a lot from his fellow content creators. He seems (justly) worried about YouTube turning into a homogenous landscape dominated by Minecraft videos and interchangeable vloggers. At the same time, his solution requires passionate people to take a leap of faith. He is right to believe that those leaps would create a more diverse YouTube community, but they require aspiring YouTubers to start very far from the ground.