YouTube received an extra dose of reality earlier this month when Los Angeles multimedia studio Electus launched its pop culture portal Loud. The channel, one of three the Ben Silverman-run company has rolled out this year as part of a reported $100 million-investment the Google-owned video site has poured into 100 niche channels, is its third digital offering to launch this year.
The other two are NuevOn, a Hispanic channel created in partnership with Latin World Entertainment’s (Latin WE) CEO Luis Balaguer that offers reality, drama and comedy formats aimed at young, multicultural Latinos; and Hungry, a food-centric channel headed up by former Cooking Channel VP of programming Bruce Seidel.
Launched on July 2, Loud’s development slate is heavy on comedic and unscripted content, including K-Town, dubbed “the Jersey Shore for Asians,” and developed and executive produced by DiGa’s Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley, the former MTV execs behind Jersey Shore and The Hills, in association with Tyrese Gibson’s HQ Productions. The series stars a group of raucous, hard-partying Asian-Americans living in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.
Upcoming series include Hollywood-Babble On This Week, a chat show based on filmmaker Kevin Smith and and comedian Ralph Garmen’s podcast of the same name; Watsky’s Making An Album, a mockumentary series starring the rapping YouTube star George Watsky; and Ben Baller, a reality series starring the celebrity jeweler.
With Electus now rolling out its Loud programming beginning with K-Town (the second episode of which went live this week), realscreen spoke with chief operating officer and head of digital Drew Buckley about his expectations for the channel, tapping into a talent pool of Asian-American YouTube stars and his strategy for attracting viewers to the nascent video portals.
What’s the long-term strategy and goals with these three YouTube channels?
When we started Electus we didn’t start out to be a television company – we started out to be a content company to make content that will play on different platforms. We believe that these digital platforms, these portals, these video destinations, will start to recognize the value of premium content and start paying for it. We had that in our business model three years ago and within two years you started to see a lot of these providers really step up and make the investment, whether it was Yahoo! or YouTube in this case – YouTube in a significant way.
We were really just pushing the whole value of premium content for these different destinations. Specifically when YouTube was talking about making a large investment in this area, we started looking at different content categories and the three we all settled in on are NuevOn which we launched in April in partnership with Latin World Entertainment and Sofia Vergara. [Now] we’ve launched two other channels: our food-centric channel called Hungry with Bruce Seidel, who we brought on from the Cooking Channel, as well as Loud, which is our pop culture destination.
How big is the investment in these channels?
YouTube has given us specific funds to go and build the channels but to be honest we have also put dollars against it as well. To go to somebody like Bruce Seidel requires capital. We don’t share what the hard number is but please know that we actually have made the admin investment in these channels outside of what YouTube has provided for us.
How much is YouTube is providing?
Not sure if YouTube is allowing us to get into specifics but I can tell you it was a very significant investment.
What would attract a traditional TV exec like a Bruce Seidel to digital programming?
This wasn’t a tech entrepreneur that came out of nowhere and just wanted to start this, and if it worked, great, and if it didn’t, move on. It’s [a veteran TV executive] like Ben Silverman saying, “I believe this is going to be the future of storytelling.”
A lot of people are getting good utility on YouTube for how to cook. How do I grill that perfect steak or make that perfect burger or make that fantastic tortellini I always wanted to make? There is utility value on YouTube but how do we marry that with entertainment value using personalities? Bruce is really successful at tying in personality with utility.
Who is your competition for eyeballs?
It’s interesting. When we’re around the YouTube people we always say we’re in this period right now in which all ships rise with the tide. We’re all saying to each other, “We’ll like your video channel, you like mine and let’s share.” We’re all saying let’s all be successful together and share and let the users decide.
What’s your strategy to drive viewers to the channels?
A bunch of different techniques. In the case of Loud, we actually have gone and partnered with a YouTube talent, George Watsky, who made his name doing a bunch of YouTube series. We really brought him in and produced a scripted format and we’ve seen great traction there of him bringing that user base over. We’ve also seen great traction from Sofia, who is a social media queen and is able to drive a lot of her Twitter followers towards the NuevOn site.
With Hungry, it’s the same method of looking at YouTube personalities: We have Laura Vitale, who was able to bring some of her audience over. In short order, we’ll be announcing other third party partners that will be embedding our content on their sites. So you can go to, say, a food blogger site and if they’re able to embed our YouTube video player, you’ll be able to watch the content.
How have you monetized the channels?
YouTube/Google and their sales force is running the monetization so if you go to a lot of the different sites I’m sure you’ll see a pre-roll and post-roll commercial and in some cases you’ll also see banner advertising on top. We have had good success with the advertising in our channels and, again, if you watch you’ll see which advertisers are stepping up in a formidable way.
How many hours or programming are you producing per year?
We’re looking to produce anywhere from 30 to 50 hours of content. We’re really trying to figure out the best form of engagement and when we’ve been pushing the time out for the quality of the content, we’ve seen people stick around longer. We’re finding an interesting dynamic – if you go to some of our shows on Loud, Hungry and NuevOn, some are a good three-to-five minutes, some are a good nine-to-10 minutes and we’ve seen some bigger growth and success on the eight-to-10 minute range. It’s really interesting to see how long people are staying within the experience and knowing when they’re tuning in or out.
Why launch Loud with K-Town?
When you create a channel – a brand – you really try to get a point of view and a vision. In Loud’s case we’re saying, “OK, how are we going to get awareness within the omnipotence of YouTube?”
The show was created with Tyrese Gibson and Mike Le and they had partnered up with Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley who had come from MTV where they were overseeing the Jersey Shore concept. We thought this could play perfectly for this new channel’s point of view so we wanted this to be our anchor launch show because it is different. We’ve got a great cast, great personalities and hopefully you’ll get to see a fun experience that a lot of people will be talking about and sharing online.
How does the development process on a digital show like K-Town differ from the traditional broadcast development process?
We had tremendous insight from Tony and Liz who came from the buyer standpoint and gave phenomenal notes to the producers on how to develop the show and develop the characters. In television, because of the length, because of the dollars, there’s more time to develop that storyline. We have inched up the development process to make sure it’s a more formidable process but we’re going to be able to see in real-time what’s working and what’s not working. We’re going to be able to change or develop characters.
Something we started [with] the eight-to-10-minute shows is to ask how are people going to learn more about certain characters? We had some of our personalities start doing video blogging and have them reach out to the audience and build a following. In an eight-to-10-minute [show], the background piece may or may not be enough for certain audiences.
What are your expectations in terms of hits and views?
We’re working with YouTube to define it. We always have our internal idea of what we think would be success. This is something we’ll build on and grow as we grow our distribution partnerships. To answer your question, the big stat for us is to be able to see the time spent – if people are watching the whole video through, what their interaction is with that video, whether they’re sharing it or commenting on it. As we’re launching we’re going to start determining how we’re garnering and fostering that audience.
What’s your target demo for K-Town?
It’s the general youth market, probably similar to people who like shows like Jersey Shore. If you look at YouTube, it has been a fantastic platform for a lot of Asian-American talent to be able to pop and cross over to general market. If you look at Freddie Wong and Ryan Higa and Michelle Fan, these are some of the top personalities on YouTube and they’re all Asian-American. It’s tough to look back and say would they have popped on regular broadcast or other television? We looked at that and said there’s an interesting audience here of being able to look at this form of demo that can build and grow.
When casting for these shows, do you formalize each cast member’s social media outreach in their contracts?
We’re putting it in more of our deals right now that they have to because it’s a part of marketing. It doesn’t hurt the personality – it only helps to build their profile and it’s something we expect, especially if they are bringing an audience. We’ve seen great success in doing that. Specifically, we go back and forth over what their social media make-up is, how do we expect them to get behind it and a lot of the time if they have a good Facebook or Twitter base, we expect them to do certain promotion awareness elements within the contract.
What are the audience expectations for production values on digital series?
You have seen the quality enhanced. A lot of the comments we see are people saying, “Wow, this is a great quality show” but when we do the vlogs, they’re not great quality shows but that’s because it’s more intimate. There are different forms of production quality on the different forms of content that we’re doing.