Online Video Dissected at SXSW

Why go anywhere else, but online? This was the question in heavy rotation during Sunday’s SXSW Interactive panel with Burnie Burns, Barry Blumberg and Sean Plott, the creators and genius behind the widely successful online video series, Day[9], Red vs Blue and Smosh.com.

Television is passive, panelists said during their talk, “The Secret Path to Success in Online Video.” TV doesn’t know its audience. In contrast, online audiences are extremely engaged, and web series are just as successful, if not more so, than some of the higher quality television shows currently on air.  Day[9], Red vs Blue and Smosh generate 7 to 100 million hits a month.

Every minute, 60 hours worth of video is uploaded to YouTube. It’s a staggering amount, but the viewership is there. YouTube is the second largest search engine on the Internet, and users watch an average of 43 videos per sitting. The challenge is finding and directing users to specific content.

The key is to understand your brand, target your niche, super-serve your audience, and celebrate the fact that you’re on the web, said Burnie Burns, founder of Rooster Teeth, and creator of the online series Red vs Blue, which is currently in its tenth year of production.

Sean Plott, creator and personality behind “Day[9],” said his success is solely based on community. He didn’t run a large-scale campaign when he launched his web series, instead he targeted three websites where he knew his audience lived; introduced himself and then started updating the community sites daily about his projects.

“Once you get that dedicated audience, they will become your evangelists,” Plott said. “Relying on your audience as your only marketing strategy is extremely effective for this market.”

Burns also referenced the 2009 YouTube video of a man at the ” target=”_blank”>Sasquatch Music Festival at The Gorge in Washington who started a huge dance party. “It’s not the guy dancing that’s important, it’s the first few people who stand up and dance with him. Without those first few followers, he’s just a lone nut dancing.”

From there, it’s a matter of being consistent and reliable in posting product online, and engaging that audience, Barry Blumberg, of Smosh/Alloy Digital, said.

Instant feedback and user data also allow the filmmaker to know exactly what their audience enjoys and does not enjoy, added Plott. But it’s also important creators trust their creative instinct. It’s a mistake to rely too much on audience input and data, if the creator over-listens to their audience and tries to please everyone, then they will become a weak echo of collective expectations.

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