Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments of YouTube Millionaires here.
A media company with significant backing has committed to sharing compelling pieces of nonfiction, and audiences have responded positively.
Great Big Story, a venture launched in 2015 thank to funding from CNN, has excelled on numerous platforms. While its has been most successful on Facebook, it also recently surpassed one million subscribers on YouTube, and it will soon expand its over-the-top presence thanks to the launch of a 24-hour streaming channel. To celebrate the second of those three accomplishments, we spoke to a handful of GBS execs — co-founder Chris Berend, VP of Content Courtney Coupe, VP of Audiences Khalil Jetha, co-founder Andrew Morse, Head of Sales Partnerships David Spiegel, VP of Development Matt Drake, and SVP and GM Uyen Tieu — about their work.
Tubefilter: How does it feel to have one million subscribers? What do you have to say to GBS fans?
Chris Berend: Our YouTube fans have excited our creators and pushed us to think bigger. The fact that we have more than one million of them is absolutely thrilling.
TF: What would you say is the general idea that unites all GBS content?
Courtney Coupe: All of our Great Big Stories are truly a celebration of the unexpected and amazing people and places around the world. We aim to show our audience something they haven’t seen and tell them something they didn’t know. We look through our camera lens with a sense of wonder. By traveling to and telling stories in over 80 countries, we are trying to make this great big world feel just a little bit smaller.
TF: How does GBS source its stories? More specifically, where do you find these interesting people you’re always featuring in videos?
CC: Our producers know that in order to surprise our audience, we can’t look in traditional places – like the front page of national newspapers or homepages of popular websites – to find a Great Big Story. So they keep their ears to the ground and follow their curiosity wherever it might strike them – whether that means following up on a conversation had with friends over brunch, seeing a moving image on the web and wanting to know the story behind it, or conferring with a relative in a foreign country who might have closer insight to the interesting people and trends in their community.
TF: Have to done research to figure what subjects are most interesting to young viewers? If so, what are some interesting results you’ve found?
Khalil Jetha: We used to focus on topics, but have instead shifted our focus to honing our voice. Publishing the gripping, visually striking stories with a style all our own has been more important than topical specificity in the establishment of our brand. The quality of our stories and the emotional resonance they evoke enables us to tell stories from all sorts of subjects. It widens our scope and has been key to our growth. Looking at our top pieces – our scientist origamist, for example, is a vastly different from our male hula dancers, and both of those are different than our look at the voice of Mario, and even The Gnomist.
TF: GBS is often compared to Vice and BuzzFeed. Do you welcome those comparisons? What would you say makes your platform unique?
Andrew Morse: I don’t think those are the right comparisons. I think GBS is scratching an itch that no other media brand can. We’ve developed a distinct voice and style and a commitment to high quality video storytelling. When you see the GBS rocketship you know you are going to be getting a surprising and uplifting story that shows you something you’ve never seen before.
TF: What strategy guides your approach to branded content?
David Spiegel: Just as Great Big Story fills a void for global cinematic storytelling, we aim to do the same with our brand partners. We want to deliver awesome stories that wouldn’t be told anywhere else, while also resonating with our loyal fans. We’ve seen brands benefit from this approach, either as an underwriting sponsor of our editorial franchises or with our custom branded content.
TF: How do you decide which pieces of content to post on which platforms? Or is it more accurate to say that you share everything on all your channels?
Matt Drake: We’ve always thought carefully about content distribution across each platform since the jump. There’s a reason why we’ve used YouTube to house our longer-form, why Facebook is where we’ve played with brand voice and live extensions and why Instagram has been a “behind the curtain” creators experience. We’ve been keenly aware that each audience on each platform has a different expectation and it’s on us to curate that experience accordingly.
TF: What will the recently-announced 24-hour streaming channel add to the GBS brand?
Uyen Tieu: We always wanted to redefine what it means to be a 21st century media network for a global audience. Now, we have the opportunity to expand the incredible foundation we’ve established on social to deliver deeper, more engaging stories to Great Big Story fans around the clock. Some programming will be live, some will be long-form and acquired pieces, but we’ll always stay true to the daily micro docs that made this company what it is today.
- What’s next for the GBS YouTube channel? Any funs plans?
UT: We are going to be experimenting with new formats and paying very close attention to our audience consumption patterns. From THE SHOW (an episodic program featuring multiple stories intro’ed by our producers) to Great Big Films – we have such a rabid fan-base that with this new round of funding we can really push the boundaries on storytelling, letting our producers explore their creative ambitions more than ever before.