How Not to Get Rich Quick: Create a Web Series

36 Comments

In a moment of rare (but appreciated) Internet candor about money, Yuri Baranovsky, creator of the hit web series Break a Leg, lays out exactly how much moolah his efforts over the past two years have yielded him. Short answer: bupkiss. Gawker quoted him as saying:

Here’s how it all breaks down: with over 2 million views on YouTube, we’ve received roughly $1,600 from their Partner Program. We also [have] over half a million views at YouTube competitor Blip.tv, worth a whopping $100. Finally another competitor MetaCafe featured us on their front page and with nearly 100,000 views, we made $500 – which is great, except the only way you’ll ever get that many views is if you win a contest (like us) or your show is primarily about how round and pretty the female breast is. Plus a year later, MetaCafe still hasn’t paid us.

There are some people making money on the web; the Ask a Ninja guys reportedly pulled in $100,000 a month for their show. But aspiring web creators should heed Yuri’s warning and hang onto their day jobs.

P.S. Yuri and crew won that Metacafe contest at one of our NewTeeVee Pier Screenings. We’ve sent them an email asking them what’s going on with payment.

Update: Metacafe got back to us and said there was a paperwork snafu and that the check is just about in the mail.

36 Comments

Betsy Ross

You obviously know your stuffs! I’ve been searching for these kind of information, and I found it here. Might I asked where do you get all your information? :D

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Gregor Clark

On the “custom content” concept – not a phrase I really like, but I’ll use it for now! – we do fine making original online video content, and I’m sure we’re not alone.

We won an Emmy last year for our comedy series for the NHL (now a dead link, sorry, we’ll get a version on our site soon), and are making new comedy and documentary series content for many major U.S. marketing clients, from Lifestyles Condoms to new projects for GlaxoSmithKline and Playtex. We did a 60-piece comedy show for Subway (http://www.catmanandmary.com/sa). Most of this we conceived, pitched, developed, and produced. We present ourselves as a broadband production company.

It’s a mix, for sure, and it’s all brand-friendly, and sometimes, yes, that can be irritating. But studios can control what you’re doing too, as we all probably know from experience or stories. I don’t know, I don’t mind it so much, mostly because of the utterly refreshing lack of standards and protocols. There’s room for so much great content, and there are budgets, too. And there’s so much more we could do and hope too, as well. It really still feels very young and fresh to me.

We always explain to marketers that they’re competing in a new world where they must be willing to go head-to-head with entertainment content. The new paradigm for marketers online has to be entertainment.
I think the Emmy says it all, actually. We made that series for a commercial client, but it won an entertainment award. It wasn’t on an online “network”, it was an NHL-sponsored minisite. Pretty blurry line.

Generally, interactive agencies get this and I think they are often just needing to find solid, right-price production partners who can spit out original concepts quickly. Specialized turn-key production companies have a real niche to fill here. Our price point pushes downward on TV production, massively reduces costs compared to commercial production, but it’s not a student film we’re making either. And it’s not a guy in front of a camera being funny. For Lifestyles, we went to Amsterdam, Stockholm, Slovakia, and Paris, and made comedy videos for them in each location. (http://www.lifestyles.com).

Cross-platforming is of course also a dream, so don’t get me wrong! I love TV, too. And hopefully, one day we’ll be making TV shows, too. But for us, the internet is a great place to be making content…right now.

Mark Schoneveld

I’m a little late to this conversation, but WOW. You guys are rockin’ it in here. I do find this whole discussion amusing in the sense that not even the video sites themselves make any damn money.

If you’re a guerilla marketing guru like Kent and can sling T-shirts and stickers and whatever else he sells to make the cash, that’s rad. Me, I made money by approaching a company directly and pitching them a show I wanted to do that was in line with their marketing plan to begin with (uwishunu.com/illadates). There are more ways than one to skin a cat – but let’s face it – independently produced media – be it song, dance, film, whatever – is not a cash cow save for one in a million. It’s art. And in America, art doesn’t pay. I have friends in bands that tour the world, sell thousands of records and STILL have day jobs because being an indie rocker doesn’t pay.

Sure there must be a better way – we’re trying some things at XLNTads.com – but in the end, the DIY distribution model that YouTube et al provide is a pipe dream to riches.

Yuri, I dig your show. I hope your “I’m quitting” post is an April Fools gag. Keep yr chin up, and hopefully, like Jackie says, it’s an opportunity builder.

Chuck Boyce

Hi Om,

I realized I hadn’t disagreed with you after I’d already hit the “Post Comment” button. I’m very relieved, too. Disagreeing with you is a big red flag, to me.

I’m so glad you’re ok. This is the only life we’ve got and your health scare is reminder to all of us to focus on the important things in life.

You’re a great thinker and someone I deeply appreciate. (I was actually reprimanded while consulting at a huge financial company that will go nameless for forwarding a post of yours about the problems you observed with outsourcing in India during a visit of yours home there. I’m quite proud of that.)

:-)

Take care,

Chuck Boyce

Brian Hogg

No West Wing, no matter how many times you pitch it, and no matter how many puppets you try to add to that pitch.

Yuri

While I’m not even going to try to compare Break a Leg with Rocketboom and Ask a Ninja (both of which are completely different shows and the thing I specifically mention in my article — that the only thing that can make money is a low budget, talk-to-the-camera-type of thing), the numbers are a little skewed. Mostly because our biggest views and biggest audience comes from YouTube, our dedicated fans go to the Break a Leg site, sure, but as the article states, we have nearly 2.5 million views on YouTube and around 500,000 on Blip.tv, which is the main host on our website. As someone from YouTube once told me, “People don’t need websites anymore, not when they have YouTube.”

So, the numbers are a little skewed. But you prove my point, Kent, in that — internet video is the art of “how do I do it cheap, easy and quick.” Until there’s some real money, it’ll stay that way, and very few creators will want to push beyond that boundary.

In other words, I don’t think we’ll be seeing a West Wing on NNN any time soon.

Om Malik

@ chuck,

I didn’t write the post, so you didn’t disagree with me. Maybe you disagreed with Chris ;-)

Brian Hogg

I’m in the same boat as Yuri, and as many others, but I’m not too focused on making money off of the video I’m putting up, specifically. I’m trying to use that content as my portfolio, to get work in the areas I’ve developed competencies in during the creation of the show. It isn’t making season two of dotBoom directly, of course, but it’s still in the area I want to be in.

Brian Hogg

theshadowfan – this is in line with what I’m saying. I don’t think it’s a knock against a show that it’s more for TV than for the internet, of course, and hopefully in the long view, it’ll be seen as ahead of its time.

Tommy – if you’re going to be a troll, at least make your comments interpretive. If you’re picking something that’s a matter of opinion, then you can stick to that for a while, but the factual inaccuracies you’re going for limit the length of your trolling. I mean, seriously, if it were good it would be on TV? That’s ludicrous. Much of the online content wouldn’t work within the TV format, for a wide variety of reasons, and there’s a plethora of content that’s online only but of the highest possible quality. Are you new to online video as well as to Break a Leg in particular?

Also, clearly it’s not just the show’s creators who like the show. My liking it disproves your “point,” (and I’m far from the only one).

I hate to encourage your obvious baiting, even to tear it down, but, come on, Tommy, try harder.

Tim Street

Revver has been great. The best I’ve done on Revver is $3K a month. Right now with the buyout of Revver I’m down to $500 per month and because of the switch over they are late on payments but say they are coming. I’ve not found any other sites that pay as well as Revver does… yet.

theshadowfan

I would imagine that this topic probably effects at least half the readers on this site. ;)

At times it’s frustrating that we’re the forerunners into this new market, but at other times it’s extremely fun!

Have you all tried to make money through Revver? Veoh also allows for revenue sharing, but the current contractual requirements are too extreme for the average internet producer.

Yuri

Brian — thanks for the well-written defense, much appreciated.

Shadowfan — I agree. We didn’t intend for it to be on the Internet at first but it gained popularity there (yes, Tommy, popularity! Imagine!) so we continued it here. It’s a delicate balance — on one hand, you want your show to be on TV so you don’t want to pigeonhole yourself into making specific content for the Internet (as I mention in my article) on the other, it’s like you said, something geared specifically for the Internet would do better. It’s a toss up.

Tommy — Yes, it’s true, we’re arrogant and vain and the only reason we make the show is for us. Not a single person is watching, the numbers are fabricated, it’s us, sitting around, eating bagel dogs, laughing hysterically at our own jokes and then slowly crying ourselves to sleep.

I appreciate good criticism, I don’t even mind when people flat out say they don’t like it, but you’ve obviously watched very little and are insulting us for the purpose of being insulting. A hobby? We spend hours and hours and hours while working full time jobs to create the show. Why? Not because we’re vain, arrogant artists who think our show is the best of shows but because the fan base is rabid, fantastic and urges us to do more. Never did we think we’d make more than one episode, the only reason we did was at the sudden and strong audience that we built almost without trying.

Don’t like the show? Fine. But don’t pretend to know anything about the project when you’ve obviously watched very, very little of it.

Thanks to everyone for their comments!

Tommy

If this show was any good, it would be on TV already (or the producers would have a development deal by now)…it’s only funny to its creators, which is what is hurting online artists, everything is too niche and not high-concept enough to reach critical mass. Sounds like more of a hobby, than a business model. Again, bad case study.

theshadowfan

How much money do the guys at Smosh make? Their content is 100% geared towards the internet market. While Break a Leg is a good show, it seems more for the TV crowd. It seems like in order to succeed on the internet you have to do something creatively unique that wouldn’t be shown on tv.

Brian Hogg

Now, hold on, Tom, I’m going to have to call you out on a factual inaccuracy. THIS is the definition of mediocre:

mediocre |ˌmēdēˈōkər|
adjective
of only moderate quality; not very good : a mediocre actor.

Break a Leg is a show. You may say it’s of mediocre quality, a point on which I’d disagree, but you can’t say it is the definition of mediocre; that’s just a judgement you make on the quality of the thing, not the thing itself.

Secondly, how is Ask a Ninja unique? You have a person answering viewer mail. That’s been done before, both online and off. It’s a funny show, if repetitive, but unique? No way. Also, it’s funny that you would reference Arrested Development, Tom, as that’s something of an inspiration to Yuri and the BaL gang. And even though I think Arrested Development is an over-hyped, fairly unremarkable show, I like Yuri’s show. Perhaps I drank the BaL kool-aid, but not the Arrested Development kool-aid (AD seems to be nothing but characters who are quirky for the sake of being quirky. BaL, at least, is building the reality of the world around those quirks).

A sitcom worse than 2-and-a-half men? Seriously? That’s the best insult you can muster, Tom? First you say it fails to compete with shows you hold in high regard, then you say it fails to compete with a show you hold in no regard? Why not go straight to the no-regard comparison? Because what you did by making that first comparison is put a connection in the readers’ minds between Ask a Ninja, Arrested Development, and Break a Leg. And whatever your specific thoughts on that comparison, people will eventually forget it, and just remember that you thought they were comparable. So in the long run, your actual thoughts will be overwritten by something completely opposite to it. And that’s a damn shame, because those thoughts were admirably cogent.

I should say, in the interest of disclosure and all, that I’m friends with Yuri, but I became friends with him because he’s a super-nice guy, and very talented. He makes a good show. It has one thing I really like, which is unpredictability; I know that a lot of people prefer to know what they’re getting when they flip a channel, or press play — not a judgement call, Mr. Strong, simply a personal preference — but I like to be kept on my toes, and Break a Leg does that.

That is certainly a reason why it may not be doing that well financially (a sad scenario I put my own work, dotBoom, into). It’s good, sure, but it’s not built for the audience. It’s damned admirable of Yuri to make the show he wants to make, and there’s not a chance in hell that I’d impugn that decision — it’s the difficult one, and the one I made, and will make again — but it’s a complex and complicated show. The episodes are long. There’s no hand-holding. You have to pay attention to what’s going on. There are multi-episode callbacks.

This isn’t your “nobody gets my art” argument, but as a practical reality, making long video online, right now, unless it’s non-fiction, or something that you can really only half-watch, is dicey. Most people aren’t ready for longer-form stuff, and the length of time people are willing to sit through a single video gets shorter, not longer. This is why shows like Break a Leg are doing less well than they might; if this were on TV, in your half-hour format, it would be your basic cult hit, I think. By contrast, your Ask a Ninja simply wouldn’t work at a half-hour long, unless you change the format sufficiently enough to render it unrecognizable.

My personal hope is that the more complex, longer-form shows will become more numerous, and more accepted, especially as the older generations, with their longer attention-spans, come online in greater numbers.

Tom Strong

Sampled a few, it’s the very definition of mediocre. Either offer something unique like Ask A Ninja, or something brilliant like Arrested Development. Making a sitcom worse than 2 and a half men is just a waste of time and money.

Chuck Boyce

I disagree with Om. (Did I just say that???) I think you’ve got to do what you believe in. There’s no models of how to do this yet that works for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be discovered.

I visit http://kentnichols.com/ every day and I believe that you have to be willing to scrape your way through until you can earn a living.

Anyone expecting to make HUGE dollars is crazy, IMO. If your goals are more modest and you MUST do this because you’re driven to, I think it is doable.

Yuri, have you thought about selling DVDs and/or certain content for subscriber-only? I have my feet in multiple fields and one is rather niche (SQL Server), so I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a bit more money (although it’s still rough) selling IT training videos via DVD while I focus on the things I really want to produce. SQLServerDVD.com isn’t about making a web series, but it’s a way to stay out of cubicleville while I get to do what I want (http://chucktv.ning.com)

I’d be happy to produce some DVDs for you at a great price or via a profit split arrangement. I could handle shipping, too (I already have the endicia acct).

Chuck Boyce
chuck tv
Microsoft Digital Media MVP
chuckboycejr@gmail.com

Yuri

Wait, let’s back up here. It has to be good, too? Dammit. If only I knew. If only we focused less on making it bad and more on making it good, maybe the numbers would get even higher. Someone should hire you on some sort of advice-giving council, Tommy. Thank you.

Jackie — I hope you’re right and that’s what me and my brother and the rest of the crew is trying to do now — push either this project, or open ourselves up for a new one. Thanks for the comments!

Tommy

For one, your show has to be good and two, has to have numbers–both of which this show lacks. Bad case study.

Jackie Peters

True, there is little to no money to be had in creating online video and trying to sell advertising. However, what Yuri has done is positioned himself as an expert in his field. And we are starting to see money crawling into custom content. Yuri is now well positioned to create and distribute content for brands. Think of it as a spec piece, I’m sure in the long-run it will end up paying dividends.

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