Guess which companies are having early success as part of YouTube’s massive 96-channel rollout? The ones that have done it before.
YouTube natives like Maker Studios and Vlogbrothers are off to strong starts since launching new channels backed by Google’s much-hyped $100 million production fund. Conversely, less experienced (and perhaps more substantive) content producers like Slate and The Intelligent Channel are struggling to attract large numbers of subscribers, as least according to the early view numbers they're generating on YouTube. And so far, Madonna’s celebrity, along with her well-received Super Bowl halftime performance, has failed to translate into a mass audience—though it’s still early.
For example, Maker Studios, perhaps best known for nurturing comedic YouTubers like Ray William Johnson and Nice Peter, started off strong with its mothers-oriented channel The Moms' View, which has amassed nearly 60,000 subscribers and 2.1 million views since launching in December; and Tutele, its more narrowly focused Hispanic-themed channel, which claims close to 25,000 subscribers as of Wednesday (Feb. 15).
Similarly, but perhaps more unexpectedly, Vlogbrothers' SciShow, which discusses such topics as lake discoveries in Antarctica and solar storms, has landed about 100,000 subscribers while generating 1.7 million views. Vlogbrothers’ other YouTube channel, Crash Course, has fewer subscribers (113,305) but has exceeded 720,000 views.
Like Maker, Vlogbrothers is a YouTube fixture. The brothers existing channel has over 200 million views, so it arrived at the channel strategy with a running start. That’s not the case with Slate, which has attracted fewer than 8,400 subscribers for Slate News Channel since making its debut Jan. 2. Slate, known for its smart, opinionated editorial, has at least generated plenty of views (34 million). The Intelligent Channel, which features Paul Holdengraber, director of public programs at the New York Public Library, conducting interviews, has proven a tough draw, pulling in just 2,277 subscribers and 16,960 video views.
While egghead interviews may eventually catch on, dance, fitness and parenting would seem to be perfect for YouTube’s niche programming strategy. But so far, big names with little YouTube experience going after such niches have exhibited mixed, if not lousy results. For example, Madonna’s DanceOn has nabbed nearly 35,00 subscribers—fewer people that attend some of her concerts—but has also generated close to 35 million views. To be fair, a rep for DanceOn said that the site's premium video content isn't due to arrive until April. Meanwhile, Lionsgate’s health-oriented BeFit looks like a bust, as the channel has collected just 7,663 subscribers since going live in January, though those folks have amassed 466,137 views.
Surprisingly, the hip, fast-growing parenting site CafeMom has struggled programming to moms while Maker, which previously had little to no mom credibility, has scored. The CafeMom studios channel has just 4,134 subscribers. However, those users are responsible for a ton of volume—1,463,742 views—or 354 views each. It should be noted that you don’t have to be a subscriber to watch videos on any of these channels.
Also having some trouble pulling in subscribers is Deca, the Web distributor behind the popular Momversation blog. Its KinCommunity has 8,807 subscribers and 869,754 views. Several of its clips have been viewed just a few hundred times.
Is it way too early to evaluate a programming lineup that has been live in some cases just five or six weeks, with varying levels of output, frequency and promotional backing? Probably. But in a media landscape that declares million-dollar network TV pilots dead after one viewing, YouTube programmers should expect heavy scrutiny, with their view numbers naked for the world to see.
And to hear most in the industry tell it, programming to a YouTube audience is a very specific skill, one that probably requires much experimentation and recalibration. It seems to help if you’ve done it for a while. Just look at Young Hollywood, another media company with a strong Web heritage. It already claims 37,141 subscribers and an stunning 79 million views.
There are of course, some early exceptions to this rule of thumb. For example, Demand Media, one of the most prolific YouTube programmers, has seen its new channels initially fall flat: eHow Home has just 13,942 subscribers, though it has produced 8.8 million views, while Livestrong Women has just 3,575 subscribers and 72,270 views to date.
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal, not exactly known for its viral videos, is off to a strong start, proving that traditional media can do YouTube. Its 12,384 subscribers have already accounted for 12.9 million views.
Alas, not every traditional player can make the same claim. Reuters' original YouTube channel has just 4,591 subscribers and 184,619 views.