Blog Post

5 Questions With…Barely Political’s Ben Relles

We’re starting a new feature for NewTeeVee today, where every week we ask a noted figure from the online video world five questions about the industry and their work in it. First up is Ben Relles, founder and creative director of NextNewNetworks’ Barely Political. According to Relles’s official bio, “Ben Relles is the creator of Barely Political and Barely Digital. Combined his videos have been seen over 200 million times and viewed on news programs and television networks around the world. Ben received his MBA from the Wharton School of Business in 2004, and was a founding partner of MarketVision, Inc.”

He also, as you’ll learn below, used to own a Sony Watchman.

1. What’s the one big issue/law/attitude/restriction that you think is holding back the industry?

Maybe oldteevee. They’re just so big and flat and awesome these days.

From an ad dollars perspective though, I’d say it is a need for better online video measurement. We have plenty of data in our industry demonstrating our show demographics, the large number of people watching and how rapidly that number is growing. But the real benefit of online video for brands is that online video is a visceral and trusted form of social media — and to that end the huge impact of online video can be tougher to measure. We are in the process of doing research to show that aligning with a successful video series affects behavior and perceptions in a way traditional media often can’t. It’s similar to evolutions in other media like newspapers, radio and TV. Our audience size is as big or bigger than a lot of cable TV shows, so we need to prove that because the right approach to online video can be more engaging and targeted, it’s a more efficient place to put advertising dollars.

2. What industry buzzword do you never want to hear again?

I can’t say “engaging” since I just used it one sentence ago, so I’d go with “viral.” Admittedly for a long time that was how I described what I did because I started in online video by creating the Obama Girl videos which I think did fit the word “viral.”

But people have come to use “viral video” and “online video” interchangeably, despite the fact that a very small percentage of online video viewership comes through “viral” sharing. Sustainable online video shows today are built most often through very loyal viewers who opt in for specific video series and then make watching those shows a part of their daily routine.

When Barely Political was acquired by Next New Networks I was excited about the opportunity because like them I wanted to build networks with episodic content and a regular audience, and not rely on “viral” hits. We all recognized quickly that the majority of viewership comes from search, subscribers and having consistent content. But at every industry event there is still a panel dedicated to the “secrets of viral video.” The “secret” about viral video is that it’s too risky. I believe brands are almost always better off aligning with a video series that already has an established audience.

3. If someone gave you $50 million to invest in a company in this space, which one would it be?

Someone needs to bring back the Sony Watchman experience already, and I’d invest in the company that makes that happen. I had a Watchman in 3rd grade in 1985 and I loved it. Portable live TV is great. I’d like to think that 25 years later we’d be at a point where all these Droids and iPhones could serve up live television a little more quickly than they do now. If not I’d like my Sony Watchman to work again.

4. What was the last video you didn’t make yourself that you liked enough to spread to others?

I sent that video Single Ladies Devastation to a bunch of people this week. I had a similar thing happen to me recently when my son was running around pretending he was an animal and I tried to joke with him “No, you’re not a Zee-bra, Ethan!” And he burst into tears. So I empathized with that dad, and loved the video.

5. WILDCARD QUESTION: Do you think that the Barely Political/Barely Digital concept has an expiration date where it simply isn’t funny anymore — where you’ve told all the jokes there are to tell? If so, what is it, and what will you do then? If not, how will you keep it fresh?

Fortunately I think there are always more jokes to be told. But over the past three years our comedy networks have definitely expanded in an effort to keep fresh. For a long time we put out solely political comedy. Then last year we started Barely Digital, which now draws more viewership than Barely Political. Today our audience is driven largely by our music parody series called The Key of Awesome which has captured over 50 million views since kicking off in October 2009. Keeping our rotation of shows fresh is essential and I think will avoid our having an expiration date. March 2010 was our biggest month to date in terms of audience, with over 30 million views on our Barely Political and Barely Digital networks.

If I’m wrong and we do run out of things to joke about, I am going to be a social media expert expert, where I am an expert about social media experts and help companies figure out which experts have the most expertise.

Do you have a question for Ben Relles? Go ahead and ask it in the comments — if it’s not stupid (or heck, maybe even if it is) he’ll answer it in the next few days!

6 Responses to “5 Questions With…Barely Political’s Ben Relles”

  1. Ben, I’d be interested to know how Key of Awesome is not viral video. What are the advantages you get from having an ongoing series of musical parodies? Do your subscribers help those videos get huge faster?

  2. Great post and looking forward to checking out this new series. My favorite quote from Ben that I entirely agree with and promote myself is that ” the majority of viewership comes from search, subscribers and having consistent content.” It is such a true statement, yet too many content producers and advertisers sometimes seed their content and hope it goes viral. It is a risky strategy. The better approach is to invest in the space with time, effort, and content and build the loyal audience over time. The results will pay off for the producer and advertiser. Further, with more content being produced and a larger audience, they will be more likely to have a viral hit with one of their videos which could propel their channel and brand to a whole new level at a time when they least expect it.