Stop putting all your eggs in one basket. That’s it. That’s the advice.
Of course I’m joking. Have you ever known me to write less than fifteen paragraphs? Let’s unpack.
At the end of the day, we all want roughly the same thing, even if our goals are slightly different. We want to be seen. We want people to love our work and we want to make more of it without having to beg for scraps every time we do. But making what we make is a lot of work, and once we get to the part of the process where we want people to start taking notice, we’re plum out of energy, money, and time. So we start looking for answers and we start looking for someone to blame. Speaking of…
Stop blaming the YouTube algorithm for everything
YouTube was not made for filmmakers, and certainly not web series creators. Similarly, the YouTube algorithm was not built to support filmmakers and allow the best of digital video rise to the top. Hell, the YouTube algorithm was barely built to allow talented people who consider themselves “YouTubers” to rise to the top. It was built to keep viewers on the platform for as long as possible, to keep them coming back, to appease advertisers, and to make YouTube money to build more YouTube Spaces that only 5 people are allowed to use. Listen, I’m not saying I’m not a little salty about the whole thing. But I also recognize that YouTube is not a community, it is a tool, and decrying that totally sensible business decision on their part is a waste of everyone’s time.
For us, YouTube is a video hosting platform, not a discovery platform. Putting your show on YouTube is like standing in Times Square telling people you’re an actor. Don’t expect anyone to watch or listen, because you’re one of billions. So do the work. The Binge pilot, which by all accounts looks like it went viral after it garnered over 100,000 views in a relatively short amount of time, didn’t get that attention because of an “eating disorder” video tag. That pilot did well on YouTube because Angela Gulner, the co-creator and star, spent a month solid sending emails to blogs and publications and influencers and offering to write some of the articles about her show herself. “By the end of our initial marketing push, I was wearing arm braces,” she told me in an interview last year. And Carmilla? The international hit that spawned three extremely successful seasons and a feature film that was created by a legit digital media company and sponsored by Kotex from the beginning? The first two or three months that show was online the co-creators spent over 8 hours a day just doing direct outreach to people they thought would like the show. Literary-inspired web series fans, queer people looking for representation, vampire enthusiasts, classic literature readers, and anyone else they could think of.
Stop blaming YouTube and do the work. Similarly…
The YouTube Partnership Program was never gonna move the needle for you
I know this point is also YouTube-centric, but they’ve been the web series boogieman for so long and they’re where 90% of creators host their content, so it’s worth recognizing how little to do with your success or lack thereof lies with them.
Back in January there was a bit of uproar about YouTube drastically changing the YouTube Partner Program requirements, making it harder for smaller creators to display ads on their videos. People were understandably frustrated that the goalpost kept getting moved on them when so many of the odds were already stacked against them. But let’s be honest: if you were hit by this change, it was never going to actually be a viable income source. Hell, the biggest YouTubers on the platform don’t even depend on Adsense for their empires. As an example, OG creator Philip DeFranco’s primary income comes from Patreon, merchandise, and brand deals, even with the millions of views per video.
If you were depending on Adsense, or looking to eventually depend on Adsense, you’re kidding yourself. No one in the entertainment industry makes money doing one thing, and one thing only. Why else would Zooey Deschanel spend so much of her time singing about cotton? Eggs, get outta that one basket! And filmmakers, check out resources like our very own Alex LeMay’s article about diversifying your income streams.
There’s one last egg you need to separate, and I promise it has nothing to do with YouTube.
No one has the secret to success
Filmmakers have a tendency to ask the wrong questions when it comes to finding success in the entertainment industry. When people reach out to me or to Stareable, the first question is “how do I get people to watch my web series?” Then when I ask follow up questions or direct them towards our massive library of articles on the subject, it becomes pretty clear that’s not what they were looking for. They want me, or anyone in an AMA, or anyone in a podcast, to tell them exactly the steps they need to take to be successful. The problem is that the answer doesn’t exist. Entertainment careers are like snowflakes, because no two are made alike. There are examples of people who became movie stars after an agent saw them at the mall with their mom as a teenager, and there are examples of people who became movie stars in their 50s after hundreds of failed auditions.
Replicating the exact path you see someone else take will have different results 100% of the time, because they are a different person, with different circumstances, and different opportunities.
So I should just give up?
Of course not! And please don’t take this article’s thesis to be “work yourself to death to get noticed because you’re on your own, sucker.” All I’m saying is that there are a ton of ways you can reach your web series goals, so don’t sell yourself or your hard work short by only doing one thing. Experiment broadly! Submit press releases to tiny fan blogs and the New York Times alike. Do a podcast. Sell merch and stock footage. Put on wacky pop up events. Join and genuinely participate in communities. Start a blog. Success is not linear. Success is not predictable. And success does not occur on a convenient timeline. Just keep showing up, improving your craft, and doing the work. If you’re serious about this, nothing is impossible.
Do you agree? Disagree? Have more thoughts on the matter? Let me know in the comments!
Special thanks to @Danny_Riv for help with this article