For some people, defining success online can be a subjective thing. For viral mavens the Fine Brothers, it’s all about the numbers. Literally.
The pair behind Movie Spoilers in One Take, My Profile Story, and the Lost parody series have recently begun not just making content for themselves, but partnering with some of YouTube’s biggest stars to help them create the best possible — and most popular — videos. Not only are Benny and Rafi Fine now officially the chief creative executives and heads of production for the YouTube star comedy collective The Station, but they’ve been making shorts with individual YouTubers — the most recent example of which being the Shane Dawson-starring Degrassi spoof series.
You might not be familiar with Degrassi: The Next Generation, either because you’re not a Canadian teenager or because you don’t get cable channel The N, which airs episodes in the United States. But fans of the Canadian teen soap will tell you that when it comes to “going there” on controversial or uncomfortable topics, Degrassi does — drugs, abortion, homosexuality, school shootings and date rape are all considered to be acceptable topics for the show to explore, making it one of the more daring shows out there.
It’s that at times over-the-top edginess which Dawson and the Fines parody in both Hot Teens Gone Wild on Degrassi: Part 1, released last November, and sequel Hot Teens Go Wild on Degrassi: Part 2, which debuted on Saturday. At over ten minutes each, each sketch definitely pushes the patience of the typical attention-span-deficient YouTube viewer, but that hasn’t stopped Part 1 and its accompanying trailer and bloopers video from earning over five million views, and Part 2 from being seen by 1.5 million over the last three days and featured on G4’s Attack of the Show.
The secret to getting people to stick around for a longer video, according to Benny Fine, with whom I spoke via chat, comes from building an audience with “topical sketches and viral videos,” he said. “Once we built a bit enough subscriber base, they really are your supporters, they want to like everything you do, so you can toss in something longer every once in a while in between your other content, and they will watch it and support it.”
Dawson, who the Fines have been mentoring since 2008, takes a similar approach, and all three are Degrassi fans, which lead them to create the first parody video together (Dawson stars, while all three of them wrote and directed it together). And when it came out, the cast and crew of Degrassi noticed — and loved it. “We were surprised at how fast so many associated with the show found out about it. We have dealt with other shows that need not be named [Lost] that have not had the same reaction to spoof content from us, so it’s been refreshing. But it also makes sense, as Degrassi is a forward thinking show that has made some of the best ancillary web content ever for a TV show,” Rafi Fine said.
Its cast and crew are also active Twitter users, who Dawson replied to when they Tweeted out the video — and that’s how, for the sequel video, they were able to get Degrassi star Lauren Collins to make a cameo as herself.
By parodying a relatively unknown Canadian show, the team has seen “thousands of comments” from people who had never heard of Degrassi or had stopped watching it, but were going to go back to the series or potentially buy DVDs. The positive reaction from the Degrassi folk has also got them hoping that they might be able to work with producers on a future parody installment, though no official overtures have yet been made. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to handle that situation,” the Fines said as a pair. “But it’s a good spot to be in, when you actually do love a show so much that you’d love to work with them to help the series.”
With their knack for getting content to go viral and their relatively independent place in the web video economy, the Fines have become increasingly vocal advocates for transparency in reporting view counts, considering them to be the only true barometer for success in the online video world. “The new media community itself is causing everyone not to be forward thinking as much as they should,” Rafi said. “Viewership should be the #1 priority and #1 determining factor of success online, but because so few can get it, the community devalues it or cheats to get it.”
And the key to getting views, according to Benny, is building an audience that’s personally engaged with your content. “Everyone should be on YouTube in some capacity, because that’s the only place a shell of sustained viewership exists,” he said.
“Good content is one side, views is the other. If you don’t have the views, you are not a success no matter how good your show is — unless you are the web for different reasons,” Rafi said.
Related GigaOm Pro Content (subscription required): By The Numbers: Budget Analysis of a Web Series