For six years, Gregory Ng has held the uncontested title of Frozen Food Master, a grocery guru who has eaten his way through 1,000 microwaved meals and recorded the results for a loyal audience.
But a few days ago, in mid-review, he abruptly quit. The breaking point? A $2 children's meal that Ng felt was "breading with a hint of chicken on the inside."
"You know what? I can't do this anymore," he said into the camera after a pause. "This is horrible. We should not be feeding our kids this. We should not be eating this frozen food anymore. I'm done with this."
Obviously, it's not the frozen food industry that's changed since Ng's video review series, Freezerburns, began in 2008. What's changed is Ng himself.
In recent years, while working his day job as CMO for optimization firm Brooks Bell, Ng has become an advocate for healthy, active living. He even quit Freezerburns briefly in 2012, noting, "I was feeling great every day, and shooting more episodes of Freezerburns was my daily downer."
He soon returned to the show, reinvigorated with ideas for how to make it better. Today, he estimates the Freezerburns audience across multiple video platforms totals 75,000-100,000 viewers per episode.
This time, though, he says the end is truly the end. In a blog post, he explains how he's become increasingly uncomfortable with the influence the show has had on his life, such as motivating him to feature the unhealthiest items because he knew they'd be the most popular.
We wanted to know more about his decision to close down a niche he's spent so much time carving out. Check out our Q&A with Ng below:
AdFreak: So, what are the final stats for your time creating Freezerburns? How much frozen food did you eat? How much video did you create?
Gregory Ng: I published my first episode on Oct. 4, 2008, and in the nearly six years since then I reviewed over 1,000 frozen food items in nearly 700 episodes. One fan calculated that it would take four days to watch every video back to back. Not quite the longevity of The Simpsons marathon, but still a lot of time to watch me eat.
You're an all-around healthy guy and committed father. Do you feel Freezerburns did more harm than good by promoting the frozen food category?
Absolutely not! While the issue of healthy eating eventually ended the show for me, the frozen food category as a whole did not and does not contradict my health and my parenting.
There are a ton of items in the freezer aisle that are extremely nasty, unhealthy, sodium-laden and fattening. They truly fit the stereotype of frozen food. But there are also a ton of options that cater to organic, healthy eating as well as special dietary needs like gluten-free or vegetarian.
As the Frozen Food Master, I was able to uncover those gems in the freezer aisle that were great tasting and good for you with the added convenience that frozen meals provide. And when I reviewed things that were great tasting but not great for you, I feel like I represented the tradeoffs in eating them. Because of this, I feel like I promoted the frozen food industry in a positive but realistic way.
How did your "mic drop" moment of walking off set come about? A lot of people would probably assume a scene like that was staged.
In the last couple of months I had a few "moments of clarity" that caused me to question my motivations in keeping my show going. Some of it was simply the time aspect of producing online video in addition to my day job as well as my family commitments and whether the financial benefits outweighed the effort.
I'm typically an impulsive person, but I didn't want to make an impulsive decision to end something I spent a lot of time building. My brand was strong, my relationships with frozen food companies were strong, and my revenue coming in was strong. I had told myself that I would finish out the calendar year. I felt that would be a great time to end things.
Then I reviewed this particular Kid Cuisine meal and I just got very angry during the review. It is geared at kids, and it just isn't anything I would serve to them. It was also a meal that has a commercial tie-in with the How to Train Your Dragon 2 movie, and the commercialization of the meal made me upset. I record every episode in one take and it just happened. So it wasn't staged, but there was certainly a buildup to this moment.
You mentioned when you quit that you were starting to be bothered by your audience being closer in age to your kids than yourself. Why was that uncomfortable for you?
I knew that college-aged kids is a great segment to be marketing to, and I exploited that in the beginning years of my show. It fueled a lot of the decisions I made regarding content, publishing times, sponsors I pitched, and merch I designed.
As the years progressed, I tried to evolve the age of my audience into grocery shopping moms. I was successful doing that on my website and on Facebook but not so much on YouTube. My average audience is 19. My oldest child is nearly 12. I'm nearly 40.
Good YouTube community management involves conversation and engagement. It was getting to the point where I was no longer aware of what my audience was talking about. And when I dropped a pop culture reference in my dialogue from a movie like Back to the Future, most of them didn't get it.
You also noted that you felt a bit corrupted by the allure of traffic. Did you feel you were starting to lose control of your content and your own choices?
Absolutely. Over the years, I optimized everything about my show: which items I reviewed to gain the most views and comments, the time to publish, the best way to title my videos for SEO benefits, and the best video length for my audience.
There are a lot of best practices around YouTube optimization, but those should just be viewed as guidelines. Every channel is different because every show is different. I figured out mine and I didn't like the decisions I was making to drive more subscribers and revenue.
For example, I would review a Hot Pocket over a vegan Indian meal because I knew the views would be 10 times larger. I could have reviewed what I wanted, but that wasn't my goal. I was in it to build audience, prove that you could monetize by owning a niche and fine tune my camera presence.
Eventually I realized I accomplished those things and it wasn't good for me to continue down this path just for a little more revenue.
Like most YouTube personalities, you get a lot of nasty comments. While you seem to have fun mocking them, did they factor into your decision to quit?
Oh no. I know for people not used to publishing a lot on YouTube the troll comments are very scary, emotionally damaging and offensive. I have always said that a sign that you are popular on YouTube is that the trolls come out. They did not factor into me ending the show.
Do you see yourself starting another ongoing video series with revenue potential? Will you be conquering another niche?
Yes! I am already in the ideation phase of my next project. Freezerburns was the result of careful planning and identifying of a profitable, untapped niche. My next project will be online video based, but not necessarily capitalizing on an exploitable niche. I will not be eating on camera nor will I be reviewing things. This one is coming more from my soul as I will be focusing on crafting behind the camera instead of in front of it. If revenue comes, great. My goal on this one is to create something where the reward is in the emotion it creates.