YouTube multi-channel networks (aka MCNs) have a fairly dubious reputation in our current online video ecosystem. Some MCNs are bad actors, some are just ignorant of their mistakes, and some are incapable of living up to the expectations they create for the channels in their networks even though they may have the best intentions. Some networks will promise creators millions of views, stardom, untold riches, mysterious brand deals that are always right around the corner, misleading information on advertising rates and CPMs, or otherwise obfuscate what they actually will do in exchange for a creator’s revenue.
When we started Channel Frederator Network, the network for independent animators and artists, we wanted to create a network that we as creators ourselves would want to be a part of and a network that was exemplary of the promise of our very young industry. We’ve learned a lot through the process of growing from next to nothing a year ago to more than 250 million monthly views, 1,500 network members and 18 million subscribers currently. We’ve done this by developing and implementing our own ideas on what a network should be and do, using what other networks are doing well and by trying to avoid the bad practices some MCNs have become known for.
For creators, whether or not you choose to be a part of Channel Frederator Network (we are a mostly animation-focused MCN after all and cannot accommodate every creator), these are the kinds of things we believe you should look for when considering whether or not joining an MCN is right for you. Below is our network’s best practices, and our best stab at helping establish the next generation of networks: MCN 2.0.
The creator always comes first.
At Channel Frederator Network, the creator always comes first. As cliche as it sounds, this is critically important to us.
Putting the creator first isn’t a matter of simply working hard for them and watching their backs. It’s a matter of asking ourselves, in every decision we make, “Can we be doing more for our creators?”
This principle also impacts the way we treat all of our creators. It’s not enough for us to have a few creators at the top that get the majority of our attention. It’s imperative that as a network we give as much attention as possible to all of our creators as we believe that the more we can help creators with smaller audiences grow, the more benefit it is to us as a network. One of our favorite things to hear are the numerous stories from our creators who have managed to become full time independent creators after having worked with us.
Most notably after working with us, Sam Green was able to fully support himself. He said, “The [Channel Frederator Netowork] has literally changed my life. They’ve allowed me to move out of my parent’s basement!” We worked with Sam to increase his audience from an average of 1.2 million views per month, to over 4.3 million views per month for 10 straight months.
There are some who say that paying attention – giving individual service to channels – doesn’t scale. This is the model adopted by a number of large tech companies, including Google. These institutions believe that customer service can only be done at scale through automation, either by providing links to their FAQs or by other members of the community. From our perspective, however, the only way to build actual, useful, productive, organic scale, is to be helpful to everyone in your network. Quality service always pays off in quality growth. And at least one other large tech company agrees.
We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better. – Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
Be honest, transparent and do what you say you will.
This practice is more of a set of principles, but it influences nearly every decision we make. It’s our rubric, our constant.
In practice, we exercise these principles by providing clear revenue reports, being realistic in terms of what creators can expect in terms of viewership growth, what our terms actually mean, and how much we believe we can help them. We’d rather have a channel turn us down than cajole them into signing with us just so our sales people hit some artificial quota.
Discover new talent and help them reach a larger audience.
One of the main responsibilities the employees of the Channel Frederator Network have is to be actively seeking out underperforming talent and help develop them into the next generation of YouTube stars. We help these up and coming talents in a variety of ways, many of which are mentioned above. However, what really sets us apart from other MCNs is our Creator Intensive Program.
Each quarter our community managers, Channel Frederator Network’s programming experts, select 12 – 15 creators with which to work very closely. Their mission is to fully train the creator to be a master programmer, strategize with them on ways to grow their audience, optimize their existing library of content, execute paid media campaigns, promote from our owned and operated properties and facilitate collaboration within the group in the program. We’ve seen massive success with this program including increasing creators’ views by 375% and driving over 300,000 new YouTube subscriptions since the program began in Q1 of 2014.
One prime example is our work with Chrunchlins. We worked with the creator starting in January 2014 on a number of fronts including his thumbnails, end cards, programming, and scheduling. Within three months we helped grow his channel from an average of 120 subs per month to 630, from 3,600 views from subscribers per month to 30,000 and from 27,000 views per month to 76,000. Today, a little over a year later he’s averaging just under 300,000 views per month. That’s a 1,000% gain in just one year.
Teach, don’t preach.
One of the main things we try to do at Channel Frederator Network is to give our creators the tools they need to be able to think about programming for YouTube. We do this through upwards of six monthly google hangouts with creators to review best practices, multiple monthly live streams with professionals in the animation industry, and through our extensive – and continually growing – library of documents. In all of these information downloads, we try to teach the thinking as opposed to just telling creators they’ll get more views if they do “XYZ.”
Practice what you teach.
Every network should have at least one tentpole property (a large growing channel within their vertical) that they own and operate. This is important first and foremost because it shows at some level the network actually knows how to make a channel successful on YouTube. Secondly, it gives you a place to experiment with new tactics and strategies. Finally, having a tent pole property gives you the ability to promote members within your network to a larger audience.
We’re constantly experimenting with our owned and operated channels, Cartoon Hangover and Channel Frederator. Lucky for us, some of our ideas really work, and we can pass on our experiences. On the other hand, when we fail big, we’re not shy about telling folks to steer in another direction themselves.
Promote the creators within our network
Our programming team really focuses on promotion. We’ve successfully promoted Cartoon Hangover to be one of the top animation channels on YouTube, and we’ve used these same tactics to promote channels within our network.
Every week we promote four to six channels from our network via two shows on Channel Frederator, Toonsday and Saturday Morning Cartoons. In addition to this we promote an additional 45 – 50 channels each week via our profiles on various social media outlets and through social actions on YouTube. We also selectively use the three-second branding bumps feature, shoutouts, and social actions from Cartoon Hangover to promote other creators and channels.
On top of these methods, we’ve also developed a powerful toolset in promoting channels via paid advertisements in the form of TrueView advertising. We’ve developed this skillset so deeply that we’re actually able to increase creators’ revenue by as much as 350% just from intelligent, targeted ad buying. This is no easy feat, but more networks should be developing this skillset to help their creators grow bigger and faster.
This is a no brainer, but for some reason, some networks don’t make this a priority. At Channel Frederator Network, we typically pay out within 3 business days of receiving our revenues from Google. For many creators, Adsense is their sole means of income and we believe it’s important to treat their payments with the same priority we would treat our own paychecks.
Work to maintain open lines of communication with everyone in the network.
One of the institutionalized concepts we have at Channel Frederator Network is that the more we can communicate with creators the better. We have an open-door policy where our entire organization, including our CEO, Fred Seibert, are completely accessible and respond to emails from creators both big and small.
It’s actually a point of pride for us how much 1-on-1 attention we’re able to give our creators, even as we near 1,000 network partners. As mentioned above, we do upwards ofsix monthly hangouts with 10 – 15 creators each, multiple live streams with leaders in the animation industry and monthly newsletters. Outside of these high-touch initiatives, we respond to every email and every comment in our highly engaged community of creators.
Develop a community of creators to facilitate and instigate collaborations between network members.
Every other month or so, Channel Frederator hosts a network wide collaboration. It’s a great way to get a bunch of creators involved, talking and working together. For example we did two network wide collaborations in December 2014. This one was dubbed Rejected Pokemons:
And here’s our holiday Yule Log collab:
We’ve also noticed a tremendous amount of collaborations happening between creators by giving them a community with which to converse. A big side benefit to this is that they’ve begun working together to solve problems and common questions they all have, without having to reach out to the network at all.
We also promote and celebrate a channels successes to everyone in the network. Did someone win a Newgrounds competition? Congratulations across the network. Did you reach 5,000 subs? Pinned post on the the top of the community for everyone to see.
Provide value to an audience.
One of the main things we try to do is to provide value to an audience. The more channels we have in our network, the more choices we offer audiences, which, when all is said and done, makes viewers happier. (After all, we’re in the happy audience business.) And, of course, happy viewers lead to more viewers, which leads to better being able to promote our creators, which leads to happier creators and more revenue for creators, which leads to more and better content and so on…
Syndicating creators’ content onto other websites, into mobile devices and creating more opportunities for them to further explore their primary product, their videos, is incredibly important. Television shows and movies typically refer to this as windowing and it’s great to see new windows becoming available to YouTube creators and MCNs in similar forms.
Multiple revenue streams – Branded content deals, ad sales, licensing & merchandising
Every business should have multiple revenue streams. This is no different for YouTube MCNs or the creators in their network who are small businesses themselves. Television shows and movies have thrived over the last 100 years with multiple revenue streams from their brand. A YouTube creator, a brand unto themselves, should do the same and their network should be able to help in this regard.
One of the biggest values of MCNs such as Channel Frederator Network, AwesomenessTV, and Maker Studios is the relationships we have with traditional media outlets. While this may not be the goal of every creator, many creators can benefit greatly from getting a show on to TV, a book published, or a feature film made.
Two areas where MCNs have made noise for years are in branded content deals and ad sales. Every MCN should be able to provide some level of services in this regard. However, there are few MCNs actively pursuing two other revenue streams that should be extremely lucrative for both the MCN and the creator, which are licensing and merchandising.
A big part of traditional networks is their ability to help content get made from independent producers. Similarly, YouTube MCNs should be doing the same. Fullscreen made waves when they announced a $10,000,000 fund at VidCon 2014 and we applaud them for this initiative. In addition to this MCN 2.0 should be educating their creators on the various fan funding initiatives available and promoting these initiatives when a creator launches a campaign
Paid media promotions.
Outside of the Channel Frederator Network, we have yet to hear of a single network promoting their creators through paid media promotion, particularly TrueView. In our network we use TrueView advertising to drive views, subscriptions and revenue to 20 different creators and are looking to add more creators whenever we can generate revenue for them.
Generating revenue for our creators is the biggest benefit in how Channel Frederator Network utilizes TrueView. Essentially, when we spend $1.00 in advertising, we are seeing between $1.15 and $2.50 generated back in revenue. When we net out our marketing spend and multiply this by a few thousand dollars each month, we’re generating a lot of revenue for creators. Developing this skill set took significant time, intelligence and investment, which is probably why most networks don’t pursue it. However, it’s well worth it as there is a huge opportunity and most networks have done nothing in this regard for their creators.
YouTube Content ID and beta products.
Many networks think that just flipping on Content ID for creators is enough. A good network will actively pursue Content ID and claiming for their creators. To date, we’ve secured thousands of dollars for our creators by finding videos that were either not claimed or claimed by another network and securing this video for our creator. One of the most basic best practices a network can implement is making sure their creators have access to and the knowledge about new YouTube initiatives and beta products. Staying ahead of the curve here can pay off really well for informed networks and creators.
We should also note that having a healthy relationship with YouTube and keeping the network and CMS in good standing is basic best practices for any network.
Publicity and awards.
Most networks do not dedicate significant resources to help their creators get publicity and awards. In MCN 2.0 networks should be investing heavily in attracting and hiring personnel to help their creators in this regard. At Channel Frederator Network we have an entire workshop based around this pursuit, resources for the best online outlets to contact, and actively engage in and support getting awards and recognition for creators.
In fact, we even issue our own awards:
At this point in our young industry’s lifespan, every network needs to have a technology component. BroadbandTV has really lead the way here. They have provided good tools to help their creators grow their audience and optimize their performance on YouTube.
Channel Frederator Network is in the process of rolling out our technology “Sphere” to our entire network. While our technology is still in Beta, it does have analytics tools, a document library, a community section, resources for discounts and freebies, our tentpole programming calendar and the ability to communicate directly with Frederator staff. We plan to add a CMS, syndication tools, and a few blockbuster items we believe will really help change the game for our creators both big and small.
One of the most common best practices other networks follow, to a limited extent is helping creators make better content. At the end of the day, success on YouTube always comes back to how good the content is, which makes this element vital. Maker Studios and Machinima have done a phenomenal job at this since day one, and I believe were some of the first networks to offer this level of support.
Resources and discounts.
Making content can be an expensive proposition. At Channel Frederator Network we have deals in place with many businesses to allow creators to get significant discounts. These discounts help our creators get access to music, sound effects, software, hardware and production tools for much less than if they had to buy it on their own. We see this as the value a company with the scale such as ours can really provide to our creators. Other networks should be following suit and using their scale to negotiate good deals and discounts for their creators.
Pay attention, be involved, care. The little things.
The most effective method to have happy creators and thus a happy network is to really just pay attention and care. Many creators have spent years being stonewalled and they don’t need another company to sell them a bill of goods and then disappear behind a ticketing system. Every single one of our creators has the personal email of multiple Frederator employees who care about them and want to help.
If next generation of MCNs can pay attention and follow these guidelines outlined above, MCN 2.0 should look a lot less like Google and a lot more like Amazon.
Matt Gielen is the Director of Programming and Audience Development at Frederator. Matt leads the programming team building Cartoon Hangover (currently at more than 1.5 million subscribers, 150 million views) and The Channel Frederator Network (with more than 1,300+ partner channels, 13 million subscribers, 120 million monthly views). You can follow Matt on twitter @mattgielen.