How to Make Web Videos Pay

How to Make Web Videos Pay

Question: What are some of the best practices of the people who are successfully monetizing their Internet shows? Can you please share some ideas or tips?

Answer: When people think of Internet shows they may have slick, Hollywood productions in mind, such as Netflix’s (NFLX)House of Cards. Far more common on YouTube (GOOG) and other video hosting sites are tens of thousands of small, independent Web productions ranging from entertainment to how-to videos, product demonstrations, and general silliness.

Most independent producers are hobbyists, posting homemade videos for friends and family without worrying about making money from their efforts. But others are finding ways to profit from their videos, and some are even turning them into lucrative, full-time entrepreneurial ventures.

So, how can you make your Internet show yield an income stream, rather than a mere hobby? Target a specific audience that businesses want to reach, and feed that audience until it’s big enough to attract advertisers.

“Savvy advertisers love Web shows because the content is usually highly targeted to a very specific demographic,” says Andrew Lock, who produces a Web TV show for entrepreneurs called Help! My Business Sucks! “For example, on TV, the best a skateboard advertiser could do is run an ad on a network that attracts young people, but online they can sponsor a skateboard show, which is a 100 percent match for their intended demographic.”

The first part—reaching a targeted viewership—is not difficult for many online content producers. Most are making videos about their own interests and expertise and aiming them at narrow slices of viewers. Yet even a highly targeted audience can be huge: A beauty industry survey released in February by video software analysis company Pixability counted 700 million YouTube beauty video views every month. The company identified 45,000 independent producers making videos about hair, nails, and makeup, some of them teenage girls with more than 1 million followers, says Rob Ciampa, Pixability’s chief marketing officer.

Overall, the independent content producers do a much better job of attracting viewers and subscribers than the established beauty brands do with their videos, he says. That’s probably because the one type of content that does not do well online is anything resembling a television commercial. “The digital audience’s expectations are for genuine subject matter experts,” Ciampa says. “And for a lot of the successful people, monetizing their brand is tied to their personality.”

That gets into the second key to monetization: building a loyal audience large enough to interest advertisers. Much of that comes down to personality—being the kind of person that others want to watch repeatedly. In other words, don’t be boring.

“I’ve always found the first commandment of growing an online audience to be ‘add value to their day,’” says Blake Ian, chief executive and co-founder of social media video platform Tawkers. “This means at least 85 percent should be non-promotional, educational, or entertaining content that gives the followers something to take away with them.”

Just uploading one interesting and fun video—or one every few weeks—won’t build your audience, however. You need to post content on a regular schedule. “If you sporadically post videos here and there, regardless of how good they are, you will struggle to gain momentum,” Ian says.

Jim Louderback is general manager of Discovery Digital Networks, the Discovery Communications (DISCA) arm that includes original video networks such as Revision3, TestTube, and Animalist. Together, the networks bring more than 110 shows to online audiences and deliver 150 million streaming videos a month, he wrote in an e-mail.

Louderback advises independent producers to keep brands in mind when crafting their shows. “If it is too full of swear words, risqué content, and salacious images, you will be limiting the number and type of brands that may want to be associated with it in the future,” he writes.

Finally, devote the time to interact with your viewers and subscribers. That means responding to comments viewers leave, answering questions in the comments section or in upcoming video episodes, and taking suggestions for future shows.

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