More TV shows should leverage YouTube to drive viewership

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More TV shows should leverage YouTube to drive viewership

Back in early April, shortly after Quibi’s streaming video service debuted to lackluster reviews, I tweeted some advice for the company: “If I were [CEO] Jeffrey Katzenberg, I'd do something radical and make the first season of every single Quibi show available free on YouTube and Facebook. Get people addicted to your programming and then force them to pay up if they want more.”

Here we are a month later, and Quibi has engaged in a pared-down version of this strategy, releasing entire episodes of several of its prestige shows to its YouTube channel. “Quibi … has uploaded each of the ten-minute episodes twice: once in horizontal format, and once in vertical,” reported Tubefilter. “That’s to mimic the functionality of its signature Turnstyle feature, which lets users watching in the Quibi app flip seamlessly between horizontal and vertical views. Users watching on YouTube can’t flip, but they can choose which format to watch.”

The strategy here is pretty straightforward. Given that Quibi is such a new service, many consumers are understandably hesitant to hand over their credit card information or even download a brand new app. Allowing them to sample an entire episode on a platform they already frequent could expose the service to a much wider audience and drive conversions to the Quibi app. This approach could be particularly effective if the user samples the first episode from a narrative show.

The strategy makes so much sense that I’m surprised it isn’t utilized across virtually every TV show that debuts on cable and streaming.

Consider the number of hours of “prestige” TV that are now available across all the various services and how difficult it can be for a new show to break through the noise. And the costs of producing that show are relatively fixed, meaning there are few downsides to the TV network if it chooses to upload an episode to all the free video platforms. Users would still need to subscribe to the streaming or cable service to view the full season, so the Netflixes and HBOs of the world wouldn’t cannibalize their own subscriber bases by releasing an entire episode for free.

And yet very few networks use this strategy. Peruse the YouTube channels of most major TV services, and you’ll find plenty of clips and trailers. And sure, these have some promotional value, but I can’t imagine they have anywhere near the promotional heft of being able to view an hour-long episode that kicks off a long narrative arc.

Writing about this, I’m reminded of an article I wrote years ago about authors that generate impressive revenue from serialized zombie novels they sell on Amazon’s Kindle platform. Every single writer I interviewed for the piece said they released the first novel in their series for free, with the knowledge that someone who made it all the way to the end of the first book would be highly likely to pay for the next one.  

Did they lose out on some potential revenue by not charging for that first book? Sure. But they more than made up for it by selling subsequent books in the series, and they all agreed that they wouldn’t have sold nearly as many copies without the free sample. 

It’s a theory that underpins everything from The New York Times’s metered paywall to the free samples you get at the grocery store, and yet streaming services, with their tens of thousands of hours of IP, can’t recognize the promotional power of relinquishing some of that IP to non-paying users. It’s odd!

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What happens when your content niche becomes commoditized

BuzzFeed published an interesting article about how the glut of free fitness content produced during coronavirus lockdowns has devalued the work of personal trainers, making it more difficult for them to secure paying clients for personal Zoom trainings. “Free classes hurt my business because they set up an unrealistic expectation that fitness professionals should work for free,” one trainer told BuzzFeed. “The marketing is so saturated with free classes right now and I’ve even had clients tell me I should do free classes to promote myself."

It’s definitely a lesson in how quickly a niche can become saturated and commoditized. One of the wonderful things about the internet is how few resources are required to create and distribute content. But that lack of friction means that it’s relatively easy for competitors to quickly set up shop and begin pumping out their own videos, photos, and blog posts in your niche, to the point that you find yourself working twice as hard to reach an audience that’s half the size.

But it’s not just harder to reach that audience; it also devalues your content’s worth. Where before you may have been able to ask your followers to pay for your efforts, now they expect it for free. Advertising rates are driven down as companies within your niche find more available inventory. It also becomes much more difficult for new entrants to break into the niche.

There’s really only one response for the aspiring content creator: find an even narrower sub-niche. I recently stumbled upon a YouTube channel devoted specifically to jump rope workouts. It has 730,000 subscribers and 73 million channel views. No niche is too narrow!

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Other news

A cool look at some startups aimed at challenging Amazon's dominance in the book space. [link]

One of the things that's hindered Spotify's ad business is that its most loyal users, paying subscribers, aren't subject to advertising. But its podcasts will contain ads even for paying users, which means brands will be able to access Spotify's most affluent subscribers. [link]

"Since March 9, the Times has produced more than 30 digital events that have attracted more than 100,000 attendees from over 90 countries" [link]

A good explanation of why so many small press book publishers are little more than vanity projects for their owners. [link]

More evidence that consumer interest in coronavirus content is waning: video publishers are shifting back to their regular programming. [link]

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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at For a full bio, go here.