Online Fame Easy; Ads Harder to Get
Income for Web Video Creators Varies From ‘Retire’ to ‘Keep Your Day Job’
Some Web video stars, like the "Ask a Ninja" guys, are raking it in. Some, like Beet.TV video blogger Andy Plesser, are earning a hefty supplement to their day jobs. And some, like technology commentator-entertainer iJustine, are earning pocket change.
Like the old Hollywood dream of being discovered, video success stories are rare. While some Web video sensations, such as Rocketboom alumna Amanda Congdon, get an agent and try to make it in television, others are content to make a go of it on the Internet.
Near the top of the pile sit Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine, who have parlayed their "Ask a Ninja" Web program into about $100,000 a month in ad revenue and income from merchandising and licensing.
Mr. Plesser said he is pulling in about $15,000 a month with his Beet.TV blog, which includes video interviews with top technology executives.
And iJustine, whose video sendup of her gargantuan iPhone bill drew about 8 million views, by comparison pulls in about $1,000 a month, she said.
The winners are testing a variety of Web-video business models, and they’re learning that they need to lure one hell of a lot of eyeballs before they quit their day jobs. Creators usually need at least 50,000 to 100,000 views per month before advertisers will take them seriously, said Dina Kaplan, chief operating officer and co-founder at video-sharing site Blip.tv.
Blip.tv hosts a number of Web series such as "Rocketboom" and "Ze Frank," which attract those kind of audiences, she said.
"There is a very good chance that people creating shows that reach 500,000 viewers a month or more will be able to go full-time," Ms. Kaplan said. "I don’t know if you should quit your job, but if you reach 500,000 people a month or more, you will have opportunities to monetize it."
If a show has an audience of only 20,000 people per month, the creator should spend his or her time building an audience rather than finding a sponsor, she advised.
Ad pricing varies widely for popular Web shows, but can range from $15 to $20, said Angela Gyetvan, VP of marketing and content at Revver. That means a show generating 50,000 views at a $15 CPM (cost per thousand views) would make about $750.
Blip,tv also hosts Mr. Plesser’s Beet.TV. He has scored interviews with media and Internet TV heavies such as Brightcove CEO Jeremy Allaire and YouTube co-founder Steve Chen.
Regular viewers include employees at Google, Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo and other high-profile tech companies. Because of the audience, and because Mr. Plesser has broken stories about Microsoft, YouTube, Adobe and other leading companies, he has attracted advertisers who want to reach those influential decision-makers.
The show’s archive of 400 clips are accessed about 100,000 times a month, Ms. Kaplan said. Advertisers on the site have included Verisign, Brightcove and Adobe. The deals are priced as sponsorships rather than by the cost-per-thousand-views model.
The $15,000 a month Mr. Plesser pulls in from Beet.TV isn’t enough to get him to quit his day job, nor does he want to. He runs the PR agency Plesser Holland and plans to expand its business into video production.
Traffic to Beet.TV has been converted into dollars because of its audience’s profile. Normally, 100,000 views a month aren’t enough to make tendering a resignation letter a good idea, Ms. Kaplan said.
Mr. Nichols and Mr. Sarine, the "Ask a Ninja" duo, learned all about the threshold between Web video as an avocation and a vocation.
They started their "weekly-ish" Web show two years ago with about $60,000 from friends and family. Since then, they’ve generated 70 million views on YouTube, AskaNinja.com and other sites. They managed to live on that income, supplementing it with occasional odd jobs. About a year ago, they decided to focus on wringing money from their Web popularity.
"You can’t take views to the bank. You need a concrete plan to turn those views into money," Mr. Nichols said.
So they paired up with video-sharing site Revver, which splits ad revenue 50-50 with content creators, and earned between $40,000 and $50,000 in an eight-month period.
The pair then signed a deal with Federated Media, which now sells ads for the show. In the last year, the number of "Ask a Ninja" views has jumped from 2 million to 2.7 million per month.
"That pays the bills," Mr. Nichols said. "Advertisers now have a credible way to reach the target demo of young men who have abandoned TV, and we are providing a concrete way to get into those kids’ brains."
Companies including SanDisk, Palm, Doritos and Toshiba have signed on as sponsors.
Fame Not Same as Cash
Internet celebrity iJustine, whose real name is Justine Ezarik, gained notoriety on the Web this summer, when a video about her 300-page iPhone bill rocketed to 8 million views across YouTube, MySpace, Yahoo and Revver. Ms. Ezarik didn’t maximize her earning potential with that video because only 300,000 views came via Revver, where she gets paid for her work. She pocketed a mere $2,000 from her biggest Web hit, she said.
"It would have been great if I could have monetized all those views," Ms. Ezarik said. "I could have had pre-rolls on Revver and maybe made $15,000."
Her video blog, TastyBlog Snack.com, averages between 30,000 and 100,000 viewers per video. Ms. Ezarik publishes two to three segments per week, generating less than $1,000 a month. She also works as a freelance graphic artist and a consultant on viral marketing.
Some of the biggest Web video stars eschew the route to Hollywood, instead using the medium to promote their existing businesses.
Gary Vaynerchuk, host of WineLibrary.tv, draws 40,000 viewers each day to his unscripted, off-the-cuff show about wine. His online identity, as America’s un-snooty wine guy, has caught on by making knowledge about wine accessible to average Joes and Janes.
Mr. Vaynerchuk is still a long way from his singular dream in life—to own the New York Jets—but he has reached a milestone online: His Web show generates enough views for him to make a living from it, if he wanted to.
Mr. Vaynerchuk said the prospect of owning the NFL team someday is his motivation to keep building his brand. He draws 40,000 viewers each day to his 20-minute unscripted, off-the-cuff show about wine by making wine-tasting accessible.
He has been featured on "Late Night With Conan O’Brien," "Ellen" and National Public Radio and has been approached by Fortune 500 companies interested in sponsoring the show. However, he has declined all offers because he likes the creative freedom he enjoys on the Internet in a sponsor-free show.
Also, he doesn’t need the money he could generate from Web ads. He turned his father’s New Jersey liquor store into a $50 million-a-year business, selling wine in brick-and-mortar stores and online before he started the show.
WineLibrary.tv is basically a marketing play for his core business.
"I am not a starving actor waiting tables. I am trying to change the wine industry in America single-handedly," Mr. Vaynerchuk said. "That is an ambitious goal that I am only slightly on the way to creating."
So for now, he’s is passing up offers of ad deals that he said could have pulled in revenue around the mid-six-figure range.
It’s part of his goal of creating a liquor distribution business that will let him fulfill his true life’s ambition. To get there, he’s positioning himself as a Rachael Ray of wine.
"I am going for it all. I want to buy the New York Jets," he said. "That is my dream. That is by far my No. 1 dream."
How to Make It as a Video Blogger
A successful video blog needs to have three things.
First: The first is a topic that is sustainable, said Michael Hayes, senior VP of interactive at Initiative North America. "You can write on cats, but kitty cats aren’t too sustainable. But politics, at least this year, is sustainable, or entertainment news."
Second: A video blog needs a revenue model—advertising, in most cases.
Third: But to attract ads, a blogger must have the third element—an audience. "You need to have enough traffic to generate eyeballs and interest," he said.
Mr. Hayes advises prospective bloggers to link up with a network of blogs, like the Huffington Post, or to start developing a reputation as a blogger by posting entries to sites such as About.com, which pay for expert commentary on various topics.
Blip.tv co-founder Dina Kaplan said she urges the video creators on her site to build their brands in like-minded communities online. "If you have a cooking show, go onto several Yahoo sites about cooking. Comment on other cooking blogs and really immerse yourself into the online community focused on cooking. Reach out to the thought leaders and get advice from them, and that will drive thought leaders to your show. Create a social network among your viewers on Facebook or MySpace or Ning, and the more you can leverage the excitement of your fans, the better off you will be."
(Originally posted Dec. 3. Reposted Dec. 8.)