Zack Scott has been part of the YouTube Partner Program since May of 2008. With over 229,000 subscribers, over 42 million upload views, Zack’s channel is the 73rd most-subscribed to comedian YouTube channel of all time. I had the opportunity to ask Zack some questions, including how he got into Web video, what it’s like being a YouTube Partner and what advice he would give to wannabe YouTube stars. Read on to find out more about Zack and what he had to say, and to see some of his best videos (including a hilarious video of a giant spider you definitely won’t want to miss!).
Before we get to my interview with Zack, let’s take a look at some of his work. Zack uploads videos to a variety of YouTube channels including his main channel; the Zack Scott Fun Club, which features vlogs, comedy, behind-the-scenes, bloopers and other random stuff; Zack Scott Pets, where Zack uploads videos of his beloved pets, Otto, Egon and Izzy; and Zack Scott Games, where he uploads videos of himself (and often his wife Ashley) playing and commenting on video games. He’s made a name for himself not only with his pet videos and video game videos, but also with his series of videos of giant spiders.
Zack tells me that one of the videos he is most proud of is this ‘Giant Kitchen Spider’ video, which has been viewed just over 1 million times. I have to admit that I was laughing hysterically throughout this whole video. It’s definitely worth taking a look.
Something that I found interesting was that Zack is catering to two separate audiences that seem to me to be on opposite sides of the spectrum – animal lovers and video gamers. I asked him what it’s like to cater to two different audiences. He told me, “A lot of YouTubers have been really successful by locking onto a niche, but I find it hard to do. I like to make a variety of videos and see how my viewers react to new content. I don’t want to seem conceited, but I think the key is that a sizeable portion of the viewers are there to see me, regardless if I’m doing a pet video, a spider video, or a game video.” He admits that it can be difficult bridging the different varieties of content. “On my ZackScott channel, some people complain no matter what I make. If I make a cat video, they’ll ask me where the spider videos are. If I make game video, they’ll ask where the cat videos are. It’s frustrating, but there is definitely a decent amount who like all or most of my content. I love that group.”
Zack also feels like he has to make a variety of videos because he doesn’t want to be known as just “the spider guy” or “the game guy”. “I want to be known as a real, awesome, hilarious guy, with funny ideas, thought-provoking commentary, and stylish looks that also makes entertaining videos.” I think it is admirable that Zack is sort of breaking from the norm, creating a whole variety of content instead of catering to a single niche. He has succeeded in gaining an audience and fan base doing what he loves. And lets face it – everyone loves cute pet videos, from gamers to spider lovers and everyone in between.
But wait, we’re getting a head of ourselves. Let’s go back and see how Zack first got into the world of online video. He told me, “I’ve used the Internet as a creative outlet since I first got it as a teenager. My entry into the online video world was simply the next step. Deep down, I wanted to be some sort of entertainer. In Junior High my friend Brock Wood and I would write ridiculous fiction and send it out via AOL. In High School, my friend Samuel Seide and I would do ridiculous rap music and distribute it via the now defunct mp3.com. In college, I focused on maintaining a personal photo blog and blog site. Soon after, podcasts became popular, and I realized that online video would be the next big thing.”
In the early days (circa 2002), Zack posted his videos to his personal site, but they didn’t really go anywhere. He says, “Online video was in its infancy and there weren’t any great distribution models.” He says, “It wasn’t until 2006 (perhaps the most important year in the development of online video due to Google buying YouTube) that things really started to change. In fact, it wasn’t until Tom Green launched his channel (TomGreen.com) in 2006 that I got really interested in doing videos. Green encouraged his fans to post videos on his site, and that’s exactly what I and others did. From there, I became involved with members of his community, the most significant relationship being with Peter Coffin. He told me to upload videos to sites such as YouTube and Revver to get more exposure, and I did. From there, I met Nalts, and he suggested to post to Metacafe, so I did.”
Zack says, “Metacafe had a very lucrative Producer program, and I made a decent amount of money posting there. Plus, I met great people such as Daneboe [creator of the Annoying Orange] and Kipkay.” But although Metacafe was great, Zack found a few problems with the site. “For example, I had to cross certain rating and view thresholds to receive payment, and their audience was often crude and not in line with the type of content I loved to create. When my cat or spider videos did well, that was great, but the model made creating videos feel like a job instead of a passion.”
Understanding Zack’s creative desires, Kevin Nalts suggested that Zack start posting more videos to YouTube. Zack says, “There, my viewer base started to grow and I met some amazing people. I could post a video to YouTube and get praise, constructive criticism, and creative dialog. The same video on Metacafe might not even gain traction.” At this point, YouTube had yet to launch its Partner Program, so Zack continued to make money via Metacafe, as well as Poptent. But according to Zack, “Everything changed when YouTube launched their Partner Program in December 2007. I signed up soon afterwards and was accepted in May of 2008, coinciding with the feature of my Amazing Nintendo Facts video.”
Zack says, “Over time, my popularity grew with videos about cats, spiders, comedy, technology and video games. Eventually, Metacafe ended their Partner Program and Poptent got too competitive, but my viewers and fans allowed me to replace those revenue streams with YouTube. Since then, I’ve kept it up, made videos with my friends including Nalts, Coffin, Daneboe, and Seide, and developed other YouTube channels as well. There are minor ups and downs, but the highs greatly outweigh the lows, and I feel amazingly free to make the videos I love. The community is passionate, and the viewers are amazing and helpful.”
Zack added, “I attribute anywhere from 50-80% of my most recent success to Daneboe. He really helped me earn a quick subscriber base by including me in Annoying Orange and collaborating with me. He is truly the most down-to-earth successful YouTuber I know.”
I wondered if Zack was able to live entirely off the revenue he makes through YouTube and online video. He told me, “I do not, and I don’t know if and when I will. Something major would have to happen such as a large increase in ad revenue or a large decrease in how much I spend. Online video requires cameras, lighting, audio equipment, computers, and other expenses, so most of my video revenue is reinvested. Basically, I treat it as an awesome hobby that allows me to splurge on the cool gadgets (and games) I love. Plus, I like my full-time job.”
Finally, I asked Zack if he could give a few words advice to our readers that are interested in following his footsteps and getting into the online video industry. Zack said, “I would say the most important thing is to market yourself and build a fan base around you and your work, and that is extremely difficult and time consuming. The online video industry is a lot like any other industry. It’s also a lot like life. It takes hard work, good projects, good marketing, and a little luck. Networking is totally key, especially social networking. I would say make great videos, but spend equal time promoting them and yourself. Use Twitter and Facebook and whatever new, popular platforms emerge. Communicate directly with your audience and collaborate with your peers. Work with your superiors to gain better recognition. Most important, be prepared to spend a LOT of time. Most big-name YouTubers have been doing it for years, and some of them do it full time.”
I’d like to thank Zack for answering my questions. Please let us know what you think about what Zack had to say, as well as his videos, in the comments.