Jason Calacanis on How to Own Your Audience and Stop Relying on YouTube

Jason Calacanis' Vidcon Keynote, "How to own your audience - a discussion with Jason Calacanis," promised to be a discussion of "how to build deep, direct relationships with your audience to build sustainable businesses that don't rely on partners like Facebook or YouTube." It lived up to this promise, but was also a call to action for YouTube creators to stop being afraid of big, bad YouTube and begin asking YouTube for a new, better deal.

Last weekend, 12,000 online video creators and fans came together to celebrate YouTube and the online video ecosystem at VidCon in Anaheim. Popular YouTubers and industry folk spoke about the power of online video, how to make money on YouTube, develop an online audience, work with brands, achieve YouTube success, and the like. But things took a surprisingly anti-YouTube turn when Jason Calacanis took the stage to deliver his closing keynote for the VidCon Industry track.

For an event that has YouTube as one of their biggest sponsors, I’ve gotta say I was a bit surprised when I saw that Jason Calacanis would be delivering the closing Industry Keynote. For those of you who don’t know, earlier this year Calacanis made news when he became the first person to turn down YouTube funding and published a YouTube Creators’ Bill of Rights. But then again, VidCon co-founder Hank Green has expressed similar grievances, so perhaps it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that the convention ended on a sour note (not necessarily sour for creators as much as sour for the 20-or-so YouTube execs and employees that sat in on Calacanis’ talk).

Calacanis’ Keynote, How to own your audience – a discussion with Jason Calacanis, promised to be a discussion of “how to build deep, direct relationships with your audience to build sustainable businesses that don’t rely on partners like Facebook or YouTube.” It lived up to this promise, but was also a call to action for YouTube creators to stop being afraid of big, bad YouTube and begin asking YouTube for a new, better deal.

What’s wrong with YouTube? According to Calacanis, while the popular video site has its plusses – free global HD video hosting, over 1 billion monthly users, amazing analytics, advertising and subscription tools, a rabid community and a brilliant mobile experience, the site has a lot to be desired for creators. Namely, low CPMs, zero marketing and sales support, and a lack of subscriber controls. Calacanis says, “YouTube has made a lot of changes to support time on site – a statistic they care about. But subscriber support is lacking.” Google supports their own interests, says Calacanis, and “YouTube has done things in their favor, not in the favor of content creators.”

In his keynote, Calacanis warned YouTube that if they don’t strike up a new, better deal with creators then creators are going to simply find a new home for their online videos. He’s laid out a few simple requests, if YouTube wants to retain their creators (a group of people that YouTube would literally be nothing without):

  1. The ability for creators to set ad frequency
  2. The ability for creators to collect and own the email addresses of their subscribers (Calacanis suggests adding a simple checkbox when people subscribe allowing them to opt in or out of sharing their email with the creator)
  3. Co-marketing support – Calacanis suggests that “for every million views I bring to YouTube, I get 1 percent of that returned to me in True View ads or co-marketing dollars”
  4. A better revenue split – it is estimated that under the current split YouTube received about 45% of ad revenue, while creators retain 55% (this is compared to around a 30% share that Apple or other distributors take)
  5. A tiered system that rewards content creators that work the hardest – “Everyone should not get the same deal, effort should be rewarded,” says Calacanis. “Let’s make it so the more you invest in YouTube, the better deal YouTube gets for you.”

Calacanis calls the current revenue split “unsustainable” and assures that in the coming months creators will be faced with better deals from competing services and will be faced with the decision of whether or not to stay with YouTube and, as such, the video site will have to start listening. “As content creators, we’re benefitting YouTube every day,” says Calacanis. “YouTube couldn’t do what they do without us, so do not underestimate your power.”

And until YouTube starts offering a better deal, what’s a creator to do? Calacanis offered up 9 tips for what you can do to own your audience (officially it was “10 tips” but the 9th was Q&A so… 9 it is!). Thanks to Patrick Pho for the picture.

Email Lists

Until YouTube starts letting creators collect subscriber emails, Calacanis suggests collecting your own email lists. Make a video asking subscribers to sign up for your email list – promote your email list through your social networks. “This is going to be the thing that will free you,” he says. If you do decide to leave YouTube, an email list will let you bring your subscribers with you.

Cliff Hangers

Use YouTube to drive traffic to your site with cliff hangers. Start on YouTube, provide a teaser, and then send viewers to your own site (or a different distribution site) for the full experience.

Mobile Apps

“Apps, email and social are the three things Google does not control,” says Calacanis, but they have a very easy time controlling subscribers on YouTube. “If they’re gonna change the rules, they’re gonna change the rules in favor of themselves, in all likelihood.” Serving up your content via a mobile app is a great way to own your subscriber base without having to worry about future game changes.


Running modest Kickstarter campaigns (or using sites like Indigogo or the new Subbable) is a great way not only to retain a list of some of your most loyal subscribers, but also to gain an edge on that 45% split.


Monetize your content through other revenue channels by selling branded merchandise.

Distribution Partnerships

“This is gonna be the thing, you should really be preparing yourself for this,” says Calacanis. New partners are coming and Calacanis says that when they launch we should expect to see a lot of people moving to other distributors. He also suggests that with around 100 current video partners, “Twitter will be the most likely competitor to YouTube.”

Co-productions with Marketers

Instead of making money from ads on your videos, work directly with brands and get paid directly for integrating them into your content. This is another great way to get around that 45% split.

Meetups & Live Events

Yet another way to collect lists of subscribers, get to meet them in person and (if you’re charging for the events) made a little non-YouTube ad revenue.

New Competitors

Finally, Calacanis pushes home the idea that there are competitors emerging (Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, Redbox, Netflix, Aol and others) with better splits who, Calacanis says, care more about their creators. He sees a future in which many creators will abandon the YouTube ship for these competitors. Will you?

Jason Calacanis photo credit: Joi Ito on Flickr