How to dominate on YouTube by learning from Traditional TV

If you think the barrier to entry for YouTube is high now, wait until people from traditional media start investing in YouTube.

Summary

  • TV used to be an ad-based business, so creating fast and cheap shows that attract retentive viewers was the best way to maximize revenue.

    • Money-making formats like Unscripted TV and Multi-Camera Sitcoms produced successful shows like Who wants to be a millionaire, Survivor, Friends, and Fresh Prince.

  • TV Shows nowadays are not consumed on TV; they’re shown on streaming services. They’re not free; you need to pay for them. The incentive changed, and it’s closer to the film business model where people pay to watch it, so it better be f*cking good.

    • TV shows are more like multi-part films: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Wanda Vision. Expensive to make, but it’s a “must watch” to attract new paying subscribers.

  • TV might not be in the ad-based model anymore, but YouTube is. That means content creators can use the strategies from successful TV shows to succeed on YouTube.

  • YouTube Today: dominated by single creators who found formats that are easy and fast to produce by themselves, and they get to keep all the revenue from different ad revenue channels. (Pewdewpie, lifestyle vlogs, product reviews, etc.)

  • YouTube in the future: Seemingly single creators will be backed by a team of writers and producers with traditional media experience creating videos in formats similar to successful TV shows back then.

  • Hints of this already happening

    • Mr. Beast’s huge money giveaway contests are like TV Game shows (Survivor, who wants to be a millionaire)

    • David Dobrik’s vlogs are like sitcoms (Friends)

    • Dixie D'Amelio’s The Early Late Night Show is like... well, late-night shows.

  • Want to be the next big YouTuber? Find a TV show that revolutionized TV, understand why it was so successful, and try to extract that and make it your channel. The great thing about YouTube is that people are more forgiving on production quality, allowing you to create channel MVPs cheaply and iterate. Good luck!

Why were movie actors more respected than TV actors back then?

Back then, TV used to be looked down upon. The stuff you saw on TV wasn’t nearly as good as the films you watched in the movie theater. TV was new, untested, and… well, free. It was just like how people today in traditional media might look down on YouTube.

Films can take years to write and years to produce, while successful TV Shows have to produce one episode per week; there isn’t enough time to produce something as refined as films. So why do they have to make an episode a week? Because the TV business model incentivizes mass-producing content for cheap.

Films made money through ticket purchases, so they were incentivized to make the most refined and entertaining piece of art to attract as many viewers as possible to pay for it.

TV shows are free to watch but made their money through advertising. So the best way to make money is to create formats that are repeatable, fast/cheap to produce and gets viewers coming back every week to maximize ad impressions. For example, unscripted TV shows like “Survivor” and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” were considered huge commercial successes. Same with multi-camera sitcoms, they were cheap to produce and drove a huge following, like Friends and Fresh Prince.

This is similar to how YouTubers are incentivized to post frequently and create longer videos (to increase midrolls in their videos that can 2-5x their RPM)

Wait… what about shows like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, and WandaVision?

You forgot Queen’s Gambit, but I know what you mean. TV shows became really well written and highly produced around 2008-2010. That is because the business model changed. We no longer watch TV shows on TV; we watch them on streaming services like Netflix and HBO. And to watch them, we need to pay for it. No ads, though!

That means the incentive for TV shows changed. We no longer care about creating content fast and cheaply because we’re not relying on ads/impressions. Instead, we now care about making something SO good that viewers are willing to pay for the subscription service to watch the show. Doesn’t that sound familiar? It’s very similar to how films make money. That is why we don’t produce “TV shows” anymore; we produce TV series that are more like multi-part films.

What does this have to do with YouTube?

Well, now that TV is gone, where do we watch content for free? YouTube is the main platform to watch video content for free but is supported by ads. So the business model of a YouTube channel is the same as the business model of a TV show before streaming services.

This is a huge opportunity to learn from the best in TV and apply it to YouTube. Some YouTubers have already applied many ideas from TV into their channels either knowingly or accidentally and gained immense success.

Let’s look at what revolutionized TV:

Multi-camera sitcoms

Sitcoms were extremely effective in attracting viewers to come back watching every week. It made us laugh, we get attached to characters, and they were cheap to produce, especially multi-camera sitcoms.

Here’s a video by Vox that talks about why multi-camera sitcoms were so popular and cheap: Why so many sitcoms look the same?

Whatever that made sitcoms work, David Dobrik was able to recreate that in his vlogs with a recurring cast that we grew to love and watch. Best of all, he produced it cheaply with a DSLR and an on-camera shotgun microphone. I’m not gonna comment on the recent controversies, lmao.

Huge Prize Game Shows and Unscripted TV

Who wants to be a Millionaire, Survivor, and Big Brother changed the face of television. Again, they were relatively cheap to produce but brought in a huge audience. They had huge money prizes, and the contestants played games to win them. Sounds familiar?

Mr. Beast gives out huge amounts of money in his videos to people who compete for it.

To read more about how the unscripted reality tv shows changed the face of TV: Billion Dollar Game: How Three Men Risked It All and Changed the Face of Television

The list of endless

There are so many parallels we can draw from YouTube and old TV Shows:

Okay, I’m convinced, but what can I do with this information?

Learn from history. Learn about TV. Learn Storytelling. Learn how TV keeps you coming back.

Easy Hack. If you want to create a hit YouTube channel, find a popular format in TV, understand why it was popular and produce a show for YouTube that’s based on that format. The great thing about YouTube is that viewers are currently more forgiving of lower production quality content, so you can do this cheaply.

Wait, I’ve seen TV-like series on YouTube, and it tanked…

Well, to be honest, that series probably wouldn’t have done well on TV either. TV-quality production doesn’t automatically make the content better than YouTube videos. If the show were truly good, it would have spread through word of mouth, and it will be successful even without leveraging YouTube’s discovery platform (or “gaming the YouTube algorithm,” as people say). That’s how TV shows used to get discovered aside from just flipping through channels and stumbling upon a show.

Story is king, not production quality. Also, the fundamentals of a successful TV show can be applied to a YouTube channel, but the tactics will be different given the differences in the platform. For example, on YouTube, discovery is driven by the recommendations from the home page. Learn to leverage YouTube’s discovery platform and learn the fundamentals of TV storytelling, and you’ll be successful.

What will the future of YouTube look like?

If there’s money to be made in an industry, people will be willing to invest in it to beat the competition. It’s simple arbitrage. The same goes for YouTube. If someone can just spend more money and become the top YouTuber for Tech reviews, they will, as long as they are net positive. This is similar to why Mr. Beast is willing to operate like a tech company by spending most of his revenue back on his content to dominate YouTube.

Not that long ago, the top YouTubers are single creators like Pewdewpie, Emma Chamberlain, and Casey Neistat. These creators produced videos at a meager cost and keep the majority of the revenue generated by their channel. That is a lot of money for one person. That’s a market waiting to be disrupted with newcomers. Two things might happen:

Traditional Media players will figure out YouTube and dominate it

The moment they figure out how much they should invest in a YouTube channel and its ROI, they will make content that will beat out the single creators. What if we hire an actor and a team of writers and create lifestyle vlogs that are funnier, more entertaining, and better produced than any other vloggers out there?

This actually already happened in 2006 when YouTube was extremely new. lonelygirl15 was a top YouTuber that used the platform as her “video diary”. It was authentic, mundane, and genuine. But behind the scenes, it was none of that. It was created by three creators: Mesh Flinders, a screenwriter, and filmmaker from Marin County, California, Miles Beckett, a surgical residency dropout turned filmmaker, and Greg Goodfried, a former attorney with Mitchell, Silberberg, and Knupp, LLP.

I don’t think media companies will create “fake vloggers,” but I believe they can engineer and manufacture authenticity that makes YouTubers relatable and enjoyable to watch.

Current top YouTubers will start spending more money to improve their content to keep their reign.

Just like Mr. Beast, it makes perfect sense to start re-investing your YouTube earnings back to your YouTube channel to keep improving and reaching a wider audience. As sad as it is, most YouTubers become irrelevant pretty fast if they don’t innovate.

However, making better content isn’t just about spending more money to improve production quality. YouTube is proof of that. I’ve seen many high production shows on YouTube that failed miserably. That’s a good thing for us single creators.

Luckily, making good engaging content is not a science, it’s an art. No matter how long you’ve been in the media business, we’re constantly trying to figure out which piece of content will be a hit and why.

I’m a creator, how do I survive this?

It’s clear that every year the barrier to entry to YouTube increases. It will get harder and harder to create a successful YouTube channel if YouTube stops growing in terms of viewers. Fortunately, YouTube's overall watch time is increasing every year, meaning there are many views to go around, and new channels can get a piece of that pie. The platform is still new, and there is plenty of space for you today.

But to survive the future…

Either become the media giant by constantly improving and innovating your content even at the expense of your profit, or don’t compete and make content in a niche where media moguls are not interested in because there isn’t enough money there.