When Viewers Turn to YouTube for Brand Video, Brands Lose Out

If you were asked the question today, “Which video content is more important—yours or your viewers’?” you’d probably answer, “Mine.” But would you be right? Before I answer that question, let’s take a brief look at content production as it stands.

You might assume that professionals—people who make a living producing videos—produce most of the content you watch. In some cases, such creation takes place in a large organization with lots of people, expensive actors, and costly sets. In other cases, it’s just someone in the basement with an HD camera. Whatever the case, these professionals make money from their content through subscriptions, licensing, advertising, and other forms of monetization.

But several technologies have come into the market over the past several years that are starting to shake up who can create “professional” content.

First, there’s GoPro. Its hardware enables anyone to produce high-quality videos. Small, lightweight, and relatively cheap, these cameras, when strapped to mountain bikes and snowboards and drones, make anyone a content producer. With a quick upload to YouTube (which handles all that monetization), anyone can amass legions of followers, thousands of views, and millions of dollars. In fact, recognizing the power of the content production it facilitates, the camera manufacturer recently announced a platform through which anyone can sell or license GoPro-created content.

Second, there’s Meerkat and Periscope. These two live streaming services enable people to share video from anywhere with anyone. Although there isn’t yet a way for people to monetize what they are streaming (i.e. charging people per view), it’s definitely coming.

Third, there are smartphones. Although not as ruggedized and small as GoPro’s hardware, their cameras and software continue to improve, enabling people to make full-fledged Hollywood-style productions right in the palms of their hands.

The technology that enables people to produce “professional” content, though, isn’t as exciting as the kind of content they are creating through it—content based on existing content. For example, when you search on YouTube for The Walking Dead, there are 2.9 million results. You quickly discover that the bulk of the content is user-generated: show commentary, game walk-throughs, and homemade skits. (This is my favorite.) Only there’s something wrong with this picture.

It’s all on YouTube.

The brand itself is gaining little benefit from the content that is making use of, and making money from, its assets. But what if the brand were the destination for all this content? What if AMC set up a website with tools, apps, and more to help capture the videos that people are creating around its show? But not only that, perhaps to monetize as well? What if AMC enabled advertising on this third-party content and shared it with the content creator the way YouTube does? Or maybe AMC could feature YouTube channels, thereby helping to generate revenue for their fans?

Of course, there are lots of challenges to accepting user-generated content, but it’s clear that a ball has started rolling downhill toward a future in which users spend 10 percent of their time watching your content (an episode of The Walking Dead) and 90 percent frequenting user-generated “professional” content looking for that brand fix. Just consider a few stats from YouTube—more than 1 billion users; every day, people watch hundreds of millions of hours and generate billions of views; the number of hours people are watching each month is up 50 percent year over year. Wouldn’t it be better if they were spending time with that third-party content somehow attached to you? Your website? Your app? Your brand?

As you ponder this future fueled by user-generated “professional” content, go ahead and ponder that question again: “Which content is more important—yours or your viewers’?”

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of Streaming Media magazine as “Your Content Might Not Be as Important as You Think.”